class air conditioned carriage next to us so Terry can take that and Diana and I have two bunks in the first class cabin
. "Fabulous" we say and I hold back on my urge to hug him. Terry asks “Do we need to pay something for that?”. “As you like” is his reply with a more exaggerated head wobble. Terry hands over 500 rupees, the ticket collector looks like Christmas and his birthday have hit on the same day, and we are so grateful that there are ways around the crazy systems in this country. Long live Bhakshees!
Our train journey was Delhi to Udaipur and we slept remarkably well considering the initial stresses, only waking briefly when a Russian couple came on board at 0100 and occupied the two other berths in our cabin.
This is our first visit to the state of Rajasthan, “the land of Kings”, and we have fallen in love. Udaipur we were told is the city of lakes and “one of the most romantic cities in India” and it lives up to its reputation. It feels rather like an Indian version of Venice. The city sits alongside a glorious lake with numerous palaces and quaint whitewashed havelis dotted along the shoreline. It is breathtaking and there is an extra bonus – it is not as cold as Varanasi. Of course you still have your traffic chaos, numerous cows and monkeys, dogs that bark and fight in to the night, and the early morning and evening smog, but we would hate for this to be too perfect.
Yesterday we decided to explore some of the Rajasthan countryside so arranged for a driver to take us to Kumbalgarh, a remote hilltop fort about 2 hours drive away. The drive was amazing and we got a real insight in to life away from the city where most people work on the land with not a tractor in sight
. The local peasants wear glorious coloured saris or bright turbans for the men. Rajasthan is still one of the poorest states in India and when you drive through the countryside you can see this clearly. I was very surprised to read that Opium is grown in this area for pharmaceutical uses but that there is also a very buoyant black market run by drug barons from Mumbai. Apparently one in five men from this area is addicted to opium. Kumbalgarh quite literally took our breath away, the fort is huge and has 36km of turreted wall around it. We will definitely be returning here for a longere stay on our next visit. What makes us laugh
: About half an hour outside Udaipur our rather uneven road opened up in to a slip road on to a very modern flyover and a dual carriageway with a central reserve complete with bushes. We were amazed, this seemed so out of place. The driver made the most of this brief opportunity to put his foot down. He did have to pull out to overtake the camel and rider in the inside lane and then tuck back in as a tractor appeared in the fast lane and going the wrong way! We had to chuckle – once the screams had subsided! Medical update
: After the extreme cold of Varanasi Terry has developed proper man flu which he is kindly sharing with me
. He is bunged up and this is affecting his hearing (not good at the best of times). My version of the cold has gone straight to my chest and throat and I have lost my voice (some tourists tell me this is common with the levels of pollution in Indian cities). Diana was helping with some basic interpretation and showing me some simple sign language but she has now left us to our rather enjoyable silence. Last night we headed for one of the Restaurants in Udaipur which screens Octopussy each night (it was filmed here) to fill the conversational void. Footnote on Diana's departure:
So you may think there is a benefit to having a mother who is an event organiser. NO. I managed go book Diana a flight to Mumbai 24 hours in advance of her flight departure. She is currently enjoying an unscheduled day in Mumbai. Thankfully she loves an adventure!
Hypocrisy rules ok! We spend so much of our time in India being horrified by the corruption that is so much part of life in this country. But you find yourself on a packed railway platform in Delhi and find that Terry and I have confirmed beds on the overnight sleeper to Udaipur but Diana is wait listed so should not be getting on. Terry goes in to a mad panic and starts throwing money at any railway employee who makes a vaguely positive noise about his ability to assist us. A few hundred rupees lighter we get on the train still not convinced that the hand written note we are carrying will be of any use. We wait nervously for the ticket checker to come round, imaging some burly guy with a wooden stick and an angry face. He appears and is a short chubby guy with a round smiley face and a lovely orange tank top. He reads the note we have, wobbles his head a few times and says he will be back. More nervous waiting. He returns with a broad smile to say he has found a spare berth in a 2