**Disclaimer.. as much as i’d like to say i’m responsible for the majority of these shots, most of the better quality images are copyrighted to my travelling partner in crime Beth Dixon**
So here it is…..
After leaving teary parents, indifferent sisters and one very distraught boyfriend, Beth and I headed through the gate to go through to departures. At this point we were both bright eyed, bushy tailed and excited about our trip. Like a numpty I forgot some of my liquids were left in my hand luggage and was held up at customs furtling through my underwear and various other personal items trying to fish out the offending article. Other than that the flight from Manchester to Abu Dhabi was smooth sailing and low stress.
We flew with Etihad, an Asian airline company that I must say, we were incredibly impressed with! They had charging points for phones, individual seat TV screens and provided complimentary blankets, pillows and headsets. Even the food was good and they trusted passengers with metal cutlery! This was definitely a far cry from the likes of Ryan Air!
Abu Dhabi airport was in one word, classy. All the shops were designer with Burberry, Tommy Hilfiger and Ralph Lauren as far as the eye could see. They had some incredibly unusual ideas including smoking booths and sleeping pods (which I’ve got to say I was totally up for by this point!) There was a lot of glamorous Arab Women and important looking Arab men flanked by their entourage, it really reminded us of the way it had been portrayed in the Sex and the City movie.
Our next connecting flight was Abu Dhabi to Delhi. Again a fairly uneventful journey but by the time we landed in Delhi we were both starting to struggle and still had a 4 hour wait for a one-hour domestic flight to Jaipur, followed by a 4-hour drive to the hotel to look forward to! Initially, we thought we would get a feel for traditional Indian transportation and join the many Indian locals getting on the bus to Terminal 1 departures…. After missing 2 buses and sustaining multiple injuries, we gave up and got ripped off by a taxi driver instead. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not completely naïve, I knew the culture would be different in India, but l don’t think either of us were fully prepared for the locals to use their suitcases as battery rams to barge everyone out the way and climb on top of each other to get on a bus. Even the children were vicious using their small pointy elbows to dig into the sides of other passengers. To us English folk (a society raised on polite queuing) this was quite a shock and although the adults were fair game we didn’t really feel comfortable barrelling the children over!
The curtained ‘patting up and down room’ for women in customs was… interesting. I understand that it is for privacy and modesty purposes but I personally felt much more instantly suspicious and ironically more violated than I would have if it had been out in the open (I’m pretty sure a lot can happen behind a curtain!). I guess that was a large part of my decision to travel to India though, to learn about and appreciate cultures other than my own. I also feel these booths were an ideal spot for insulting people, while I was being patted down the woman asked about my marital status and if I had any children before nodding her head matter of factly and declaring I was a spinster!! At 23 years old, I consider myself to have a good few years left before I’m officially classed as ‘on the shelf’ thank you very much!
I admit to spending the entire domestic flight asleep and upsettingly almost all the drive to the resort! I did, however manage to keep my eyes open for a while, enough to start taking in and experiencing India. The first thing to note was the roads are mad and LOUD! Seat belts seem to have been completely forgotten and squashing as many people as possible onto modes of transport in the style of human Tetris seemed to be the norm. The only thing that seemed to have any right of way on the roads were the cows which were just nonchalantly wandering about everywhere. A good loud beep appeared to be the way to announce your presence and declare that you were under or overtaking which surprisingly seemed to work quite well! The government had definitely wasted a lot of time and money painting things like white lines and zebra crossings on the road and no one obeyed the traffic light system like at home (in fact people got very angry at the few individuals that did try and obey the traffic light system!) all of which seemed to have been demoted to roadside decorations.
There were colours everywhere and everything; the streets, shops, people, trucks, cows seemed to be decorated, but also fairly ramshackled which was bizarrely what gave it its charm in my eyes! The streets were teeming with life from both people and animals; pigs, cows, dogs and goats could be seen casually wandering the streets, one bull decided to have a little lie down in the middle of the road and laughably everyone carried on as usual and just drove around him. These few small observations I think showed the ability of these people to deal with change so fantastically, unlike us Brits (as unfortunate as it is to say) who can barely contain ourselves when new road signs go up!
Part way through the journey, my mouse bladder let me down once again and the kind driver allowed us to make a pit stop. We had a slight issue as we didn’t know we had to pay for the toilets and we were unhelpfully armed with 500 rupee notes so I bought extortionately priced, out of date pringles to get some emergency change (we still ate them though!). India was a massive learning curve; just knowing if or how much to tip and basic greetings and social etiquette was a big deal for being able to get by.
Our hotel was basic and there was no hot water (though in the humidity and heat it was quite a welcome ‘quirk’) and there seemed to be enough crickets finding their way into the room to stock a ‘Pets at Home’ reptile feeding section. Despite this, the food was really good, it had air conditioning, it was a stone’s throw away from the national park and the staff were friendly (and most importantly it had WIFI!!). There was an abundance of wildlife everywhere from little lizards and geckos scuttling about our feet, terrapins basking in the hotel gardens and Macaque monkeys playing in the trees around the hotel, for two wildlife keenos like ourselves, it was perfect! The pool we regrettably gave a miss though, it was a murky green colour and there appeared to be things … living in it so unfortunately our bikinis stayed packed in the rucksacks!
Despite the 24-hour long trip, we decided in our great wisdom (when back in England and not considering the length of the journey we’d have to endure) to book onto the Ranthambore Fort exploration tour. Despite the jet lag we were glad we decided to ‘man up’ and go for it despite our sleepiness. We had a guide who took us up the 174 stairs to the temple at the top where we were blessed and painted and offered some incredibly sweet crumbly …stuff? to eat. It was incredibly bizarre having to take our shoes off in the temple as it was so muddy and wet from the recent monsoon rains and we slid all over the tiled floor but everyone was so welcoming and good natured towards our ignorance and poor attempts at very limited Hindi.
The fort was amazing, all doors were steel reinforced and were made big enough to ensure entry for elephants (not something most architects have to consider in the UK), It was built by one of the many Hindu kings and ongoing work was being done to finish and rebuild it. In the past, the fort had housed a village of people, protecting them from tigers, enemies and provided everything they needed including a market, which was still there for us to wander through. We also got a lot of winks, leers and snaps taken of us by local men …. I’m still not sure what their fascination in us was really as we were muddy, soaked with a combination of sweat and rain and dressed in a mismatch of baggy clothes deemed acceptable for both trekking and meeting cultural demands ….. mmmmm sexy! But whatever, we fast got used to the stares and often saw the humour behind it.
We were deposited back at the hotel and had dinner, which was lovely though neither of us had any idea what we’d ordered, something we had to get used to throughout our trip! We trudged back to our hotel and slept like babies until the lights randomly decided to switch on in the room in the middle of the night, an interesting quirk of the Indian power supply!