THE INDIA FILES – 20/04/07

Theres so much to write about I really don’t know where to start, or if I can remember it all! Thanks so much for all your messages despite me being away and not replying much or sending updates – I’m sorry.So… we left Vijayawada on the 16th March with Katie’s parents and went to Bangalore (in 2nd a/c class on the train – courtesy of Katie’s parents – omg amazing! It was like being in the early twentieth century with a curtained off area just for us and pillows and sheets for the bunks!)After a night in Mysore, we went to the Karnattakan rainforest and stayed at an eco-tourism organic plantation. We learnt about organic farming, in a way that isn’t intrusive to the local ecosystem – it was really interesting! In India big pesticide companies have convinced farmers to spray copious ammounts of pesides, which is not so effective, especially with the loss of the rainforest. Without going into loads of detail, this has resutled in many farmers committing suicide. At the place we went, they worked with the local ecosystem using science to do things like planting other plants to deter pests. They do workshops with local farmers and try to promote organic farming, giving local farmers as much help as they need.We met lots of interesting people at the retreat, mostly westerners and we had a really great time! The thing I noticed most was how quiet it was, and then I realised, after 7months of living in constant Indian city noise, that I have a permanent ringing in my ears :$ (its getting better though so it’s ok!)We went on lots of walks through the rainforest, and then went to an elephant rescue place. It was very touristy, and we washed the elephants with lots of people. I didn’t enjoy it though; it was disheartening seeing these magnificent creatures made vulnerable and reduced to obeying the tiny humans around it.The next day we went to a really nice wildlife park and saw lots of wild elephants, deer, gaur, monkeys and birds on a boat safari and a jeep safari. Unfortunately at this really nice place I got really ill. Then we had to drive for 5hours to Kalicut, in Kerala – it was an interesting experience! We just stopeed over for a night in Kalicut on the way to Kerala’s capital, Cochin. Kerala looks a lot more developed, thanks to it’s portugese influence. Missionaries came and built lots of schools, and this with the state’s communist government means it has the highest literacy level in India. Tourism has brought a lot to the economy too. I woke up and looked out the window and saw something I’d not seen before in India; people running (with personal trainers) along the promenade! People vary rarely run in South India and exercise is not so popular, apart from yoga…One of the highlights of Kalicut and Cochin was sunset over the Arabian sea! I love sunset over the sea, it makes me feel like everything is alright with the world, and at that moment in time where I am or whats happening in the past or the future is irrelevant.Cochin was very touristy. It was strange seeing white people everywhere! Many wore clothes that were not sensitive to the culture and I felt sad for the image they were giving the local people of ‘all westerners’. Yet I know I was once like that myself before I came!Cochin is touristy because of its wonderful culutre! We saw a Kathakali performance, which I saw in Hexham a few years ago, when a visiting company came from Kerala to the Queen’s Hall. It is derrived from an ancient form of temple dramatic art, which was used to tell Hindu stories, usually to the upper classes, as they were in Sanskrit (India’s ancient language, like what Latin is to Christianity). When the players were no longer financed through the temples, they created Kathakali for the streets. Nowadays, Kathakali is only performed for tourists, but its ancient form still exists in some temples in Cochin. The impressive thing about it is the costume and makeup. It takes at least an hour to make up a Kathakali dancer, their faces made bright green (hero), yellow (woman), red (anger) or black (demon) with special stones. The hero has a rice paste solution applied to his face and a piece of paper stuck on to frame his face.Kerala was insanely hot and humid! A real experience! Its getting hotter and hotter – its supposed to be somewhere around 41degrees C, though its quite dry where we are now which is good! (I was in Aurangabad at this point)Next we left Katie’s parents and went to Valpurai, in the hills of Tamil Nadu, to visit our friends Tasha and Rosie, who are Project Trust volunteers working in a school. Valpurai is in the middle of nowhere, a four and a half hour bus journey up 40 hair pin bends, from the nearest city, and it is beautiful! Its a little tea picking hill station and a small community so ‘Miss Asha’ and ‘Miss Rose’ seem to know everyone! We had a really lovely time seeing them and the work they’re doing and we even made a speech! I spoke about the need to understand and not just learn the text book by heart…my little Indian education bug-bear!We were sad to leave but we did, back down the beautiful hill (the driver actually speeding up for the hair pin bends with the bus actually crammed-full of people! somehow you just feel safe with indian drivers, perhaps because I know they’re doing better in the mad traffic than I could, and if you don’t believe they know what they’re doing you’d go nuts!)….5 buses and a train and a day later we arrived at Hampi. Hampi’s on the Goa hippie-tourists trail and so a real travellers hangout. At first it was a welcome break, we sat in a rooftop cafe and watched sunset over the strange boulder-scene and ate hummus and pita! However, after 2days we felt we’d been there just long enough – it has become it’s own little bubble, very touristy and not so indian anymore, despite being one of the oldest and sacred Hindu sites in India. Hampi is surreal because it is a small town built amongst millions of big round boulders, perched on top of each other, left there by a volvano years ago.Katie and I did what we are very good at doing and missed the festival! This turned out to be good though, as we left Hampi when just about the whole of Karnattaka was piling into it, and so our first bus was empty, after we had watched an amzing ammount of people pile out of it, like the bus was a larger version of Mary Poppins’ handbag! The festival was to celebrate Lord Shiva (the creator god) and Pavoti’s wedding anniversary. They were supposedly married in Hampi and their son, Hanuman (the monkey god, of, I think, wealth?) was born in one of the small peaceful boulder caves. For this reason, there are temples built all over Hampi, perched on top of the boulders, which are perched on top of more boulders. We walked up the highest hill one evening for sunset with some other westerners and stood at a hilltop temple. you could see all the little temples from there. I was really hot and tired after that climb, so it was amazing to think of the dedication of the early Hindus, who did these climbs carrying huge slabs of rock (which they cut by making small fire holes along the rock, so that now you can see unnatural, jagged edges on the rocks – cool to think theres that connection with the past still visible, left as it was!). Oh, there was a huge cliff drop on one side, which i edged (rather timidly…) up to…you couldnt do that in the UK! They’d have barriers all over it.So then many busses and trains later we arrived in Mumbai! I miss Mumbai! We had such a great time. Mungo, Katie’s friend from her hometown of Dunbar, who has been in Darjeeling for 6 months with ‘Gap’, another gap year organisation, met us at the station and then Kislay, a Couchsurfing ambassador (www.couchsurfing.com we try to couchsurf as much as possible, because it helps us to meet interesting people and really learn about the area we are in and understand the culture a lot better, by staying with them) met us and helped us get to our couchsurfer in Goregaon (an area in the huge Mumbai). We stayed with Akhil, who works freelance in the Bollywood industry. We loved staying with Akhil – he has to be the happiest, most chilled out person on Earth!So Mumbai…is HUGE and there were more people than I’ve ever seen in my life! People live everywhere, on every square inch of space – the pavements, beside (almost on) the railway tracks…there are appartment blocks everywhere and whole extended families can live in one room. I don’t know how they don’t go crazy – in Mumabi you are never alone, always visible to somebody, but you just drown it out. The local trains are like the London underground only much more crowded (and not underground!). I read a great book called ‘Maximum City – Bombay Lost and Found’ before I left, in Vijayawada, so I was a little bit prepared but its just such an amazing experience! People hang out of the open doorways, because there’s not a tiny bit of room left in the carriage, by just one foot, or by others holding them in. I read that something like 8 people a year are killed this way, when they hit hanging cables and things. The Indian attitude is beautiful though; “theres always room for one more. We can adjust”. We were told to move up by the lady next to us, on an already very tightly packed bench so that one more lady could sit down, and miraculously more room appeared. In ‘Maximum City’ theres a beautiful passage about a hand comming out of the crowd to grab you when you’re running for the train and people are already hanging out by one foot/hand, because people know that you have to get to work too, and might be supporting a whole family. When you think that we find it hard to extend as much as a smile to a stranger in the street, thats pretty powerful. Indian’s have so much love for others. Poverty in Mumbai is just like the rest of India, but more intense. People flock to the city in search of jobs, (like farmers who lose their land to big multinational companies, and young guys hoping to make it big in buisness/Bollywood, or just street kids who need somewhere to run to) but like one lady we met said, “people don’t starve in the city”. Just as poverty is more extreme in Mumbai, so is wealth. The slums are massive, theres someone sleeping everywhere, someone begging everywhere, but then there are areas like ‘Malabar Hill’, where cricket players live and by the seaside in Bandra, where the famous Bollywood actors like ‘Shal Rukh Khan’ live, in their beautiful appartments with a/c, everything they could wish for, chauffeur driven jeeps…and shopping in western style air-conditioned (and ridiculously over-priced) shopping malls. There were some tourist attractons we didnt go to because of the ‘foreigner prices’. As volunteers, on an Indian budget, we have to be selective about where we go to when theres a foreigner price of 250Rs and upwards, where Indians pay 10Rs. This really annoys me, especially when I see the ‘elite’ pay their 10Rs and I can’t help feeling ‘Why arent you teaching or volunteering, when it’s your country, and you can afford to go wherever you want, but only because you’ve exploited the poorer people to get there?’ And then I realise what a terrible attitude that is. I chose to come here and I’ve been benefitted so much by it! They didnt chose to be born in India, and they have only done what every other Indian is trying to do, they just succeeded.So…what did we do in Mumbai? We had a great time with the couchsurfing community there, and so saw a bit of the “pubs” and “clubs” in Bombay! We met some really interesting people; indians (mostly middle class) and westerners living and working in Mumbai as well as other travellers. One guy we met works in a bank, but then works as a volunteer with an NGO. The NGO works with the children of construction workers. The don’t go to school, because their families are always moving about for work. So the NGO provides education and creches and when they move, the NGO follows them. After my feelings of foreigner prices and the rich middle class, this guy restored my faith a bit! People tend to get stuck in Mumbai, and I can see why, theres something about it that makes you want to stay, and I found myself thinking ‘I could live here’. We had a great time with Akhil too, and driving through the city on the back of his bike meant I saw lots (I’m sure much of this was dangerous/illegal, but I felt safe at the time!)So then it was on to Aurangabad, in Maharashtra – I’ve never felt so much like I didnt really want to leave a place before, but I knew that it was time to move on. We nearly missed the train too! It takes quite a while to get anywhere in Mumbai because it’s so big! In the rush, I managed to lose my mobile. I actually feel relieved in a way now, because I have 2 expensive things that I can’t afford to replace, and I have no baggage insurance. One is my phone, and one is my camera. (My camera is broken too, some kind of fault with it!) So I have spent all my time in India a little bit apprehensive and waiting for the day when the inevitable happens and I lose it. Now it is gone, I can’t worry about it anymore. It does, however, leave me feeling a little vulnerable. Rushing to get on the trian, I bought everyone water and then realised that I couldn’t remember which carriage we were on. I couldn’t find the others and the train was due to leave any minute and I had my huge bag on and water bottles on my hands and I wished I had some ability to contact Katie and Mungo! It was ok though – Katie found me! And then I got ill again…yay! India just wouldnt be the same without it! Getting ill on a train, and having to lug a big bag about (you get really tired) is a character building experience. We arrived at Aurangabad at 1am in the morning, after a very kind man had woken me up, realising that we were supposed to be getting off. So we landed on the platform, half asleep in the middle of the night, surprised to be there so early. Katie phoned some places though and we managed to find somewhere that was open and slept some more.We had 2 days in Aurangabad. theres nothing really to see there, we just used it as a base to go to Ajanta and Ellora. The first day we went to the Ajanta caves, which involved a bus journey and being dropped off in the middle of nowhere and then being accosted by local shopkeepers of overpriced tourist shops. However a walk and another bus later (where we sat at the front of the bus because we were too cheap to pay the a/c charge!) we arrived at the caves and tried to get in for the Indian price with our letter from the college, unsuccessfully. The caves were quite amazing though. They were found in the 20th century, by a Bristish man out hunting and are a mixture of 10,000BC Buddhist caves and some later ones. It was interesting to see the progression of Buddhist architecture, and so the Buddhist religion. The earliest cave temples feature a huge stone ‘stupor’, which is supposed to be representative of Buddha, however, in time this changes to huge statues of Buddha in his teaching pose, (eerily similar to the Hindu temples with all their gods). The next day we went to Ellora, a similar site, also run by the ‘Archaelogical Survey of India’, but nearer to Auranagbad. There are 3 different types of caves at Ellora, spread over a larger area; Buddhist caves, Hindu caves and Jain caves. What struck us was how similar their styles were. They all had statues/idols, and the decorative carvings were very similar. The first cave we went to was very impressive, with huge statues of elephants and various chambers and a very elaborate temple. They feature mostly errotic carvings and it was very interesting to see how – particularly the Hindu – image of women has changed. They seem to be respected and fairly equal to the men in these earlier scenes, and a lot more confident and involved in society than Indian women today. The clothing is very different too, nowadays women are affraid to even show a little bit of flesh (even the small part on their left that is shown by the sari) for fear of men taking advantage. Outside of their home, women are cautious, if not scared, but this doesnt seem to have been the case thousands of years ago.I learnt a little more about the 3 religions too. Mungo, Katie’s friend, has spent 6 months in a Buddhist monastry in Darjeeling and so he was able to tell us a little more about Buddhism. (However the monastry he was working in seems a little corrupt, with monks drinking and visiting whores.) Jainism and Buddhism both came from Hinduism, so it’s not surprising that their styles are similar. Jains rebelled against the Hindu caste system and developed a similar way of living to that of the Buddhists as far as finding enlightenment is concerned. It must be terrifying to be a Jain child. If your parents decide to, you renounce everything you own and become a pilgrim, living the life of a beggar, and males and females of the same family never see each other again. I’d be terrified. All the hair on your body is plucked out too.That evening we got a train to Bhopal, in Madhya Pradesh…and discovered that we were ‘waiting list’, so our seats weren’t confirmed. This meant that we had nowhere to sit or sleep for an overnight trian. Katie and I had booked the tickets, but the men on the train wouldn’t believe this and so they told Mungo off for not booking early enough and so traveling with women without bunks…very irresponsible! haha. People were very kind though, they try to make room. Our problems came when people started putting their bunks up and going to sleep. A very kind man said he and his daughter would stay up a little longer so we could sit there, but his wife wasn’t happy. We found other places to perch and another kind man let me sleep at the end of his bunk. Then something wierd happened. Some transport police got on at one station and walked down the carriage, they stopped at us and realised that we had no seats. About 10minutes later 3 of them came down the dark carriage with their huge flashlights and without saying anything walked us down to the next carriage, where there was a free bunk. They walked down the carriage and got off at the next station. The bunk turned out to belong to another man, who was either being kind or didnt want to sleep. He sat on the edge of his companion’s bed and talked to us a little bit until it was 1am and we arrived at Bhopal. Akhil is from Bhopal and so when we arrived at Bhopal, one of his old school-friends, called Akhaleque, met us and his friend drove us to Akhil’s mother’s (‘Aunty’ – I never knew her name) house, where we stayed for the 2days we were there. Aunty’s house was fairly big for an Indian house, and had 2 floors. Her elderly mother slept in a downstairs room and Katie and I shared Aunty’s bed, while Mungo slept in the spare room. The next day we had difficulties convincing Aunty that we would be ok to go alone to the Bhimbekta caves. Eventually we succeeded and she asked her neighbour to give us a lift into Bhopal on his way to work, as Aunty’s house is on the outskirts of Bhopal. He was very kind, and flagged down a bus for us, and we went to Bhimbekta. The bus dropped us off in the middle of nowhere (we’re making a habbit of this – people motion, shouting (because you shout when people don’t know your language, perhaps if you shout loud enough they will undertsand..) in Hindi and we get off, and the bus drives away and we look around to see where we are) and we walked 3km in the midday heat, with only one bottle of water between us – clever, eh? When we arrived, there was one man in a little hut there who gave us some of his own water and we decided to splash out and pay him to be our guide. The caves were quite interesting. They have drawings in white from around 10,000BC and in red from around 450AC and some later drawings in yellow and green. The women drew scenes from everyday life, mainly hunting and animals their husbands had brought home, as well as some dancing, while their husbands were away hunting during the day. Most are stick men and animals. As time goes on, horses start to be drawn, as people start invading and introducing horses, so the women started drawing these strange new creatures. At first they are drawn as if the horse and rider are all one. As they became more accustomed to seeing these creatures, the drawings get better.Then we walked back the 3km and found the Indian equivalent of a service station where we drank lots of 1Rs packets of water. Then we started waiting for a bus. We realised that everyone else were hitching lifts with trucks, and after a while it became apparent that no bus was going to come. So for the first time in my life, I hitch-hiked. How exciting. (or stupid…I duno!) Several trucks stopped, but we were cautious, we wanted to find a miracle of one with a woman on board. One stopped and the guy said ‘no money, just helping. I’m a christian’ and he probably was, but we were too chicken. Then a car pulled up with two young middle class men, and we decided it was the best option. We hardly spoke the whole way because they talked in Hindi to eachother the whole time, and they didn’t want any money. So perhaps we were lucky. People are generally very helpful and kind in India. Then we went to Aunty’s office, where a ‘function’ was on, so we were ushered into an office and given some snacks. Then we got lots of buses to a cultural centre. It was clean and turned out to be an art gallery! How exciting. After a while Aunty got bored (she’d seen it all before) so we went to a big lake and went on a speed boat ride. We went back home via the market in some interesting vehicles. One was a cross between a mini bus and an old jeep and felt like sitting in a bomb shelter. Staying with Aunty was good, because I was able to talk with her about Bhopal – its the site of the 1984 Union Carbide disaster, when an American chemical factory leaked poisonous chemicals all over the city because they were trying to cut corners and save money. Aunty described how people woke up in the morning to find bodies piled in the streets ‘like bags of rice’. Money was available afterwards, but typical Indian corruption, most of it never made it to the people who needed it because generals and other people made false claims and stole the money. Now, Bhopal is unusual in that many people live on the suburbs, because the water in a 2km radius of the factory is poisonous. Bhopal is clean (the first thing we saw outside the station was some ‘modern art’ raising awareness for looking after the environmnet) and of course you wouldn’t be able to tell that 20 years ago this horrible disaster happened, but many people have health problems and when you talk to them, you realise that everyone knows someone who died, and most have family members who died, and above all the things people saw and experienced have left a huge impression on them.The next day we went to the ‘Museum of the Man’, which is an open air museum of examples of tribal houses from different areas across India. It was quite interesting, they were built very well so that most were cool and everything you’d want in the environments of the areas they are built for, and so don’t need electricity or a/c. However, I was still pretty ill and we were all tired and unfortunately got bored – theres only so many mud huts you can take in! Aunty brought lunch with us, and she made me eat bright red Hibiscus flowers because they are apparently good for your stomach. She tried to get Mungo to do the same, bacause they’re good for diabetes too, but he wouldn’t. So for the first time in my life, I ate flowers too! Aunty was very caring and I enjoyed talking with her, though I think we all felt that we needed some independence, as it can be quite tiring respecting the indian culture and not offending people, in areas where the traditional cutlture is still strong. Akhalaque came with our bags, which we’d left at Aunty’s old house in the city earlier (it was very dusty and covered with huge cobwebs! I did ok, though after a while I decided to wait ouside on the steps!) and his cousin came with a bigger and newer car and took us to the train station. We had discovered that we were waiting list again and so wanted to get to the station early to try to get bunks, but Akalaque’s cousin wanted to go for chai and we had to persuade him to have it at the station. This was a bit taboo in the indian culture and made us look kind of rude and ungrateful, however much we explained, so we felt really guilty. The waiting list system works by assigning you a bunk if there are cancellations. We were waiting list 99, but luckily we got bunks!So then we got an overnight train from Bhopal to Ahmedabad (capital city of Gujerat)…at Ahmedabad we went across town to the bus station to find a bus to Bhuj, at the other end of Gujerat…the bus station was the worst bus station I have ever been to. Katie and I went to find a toilet and I had a really horrible experience. (If you’re eating, finish and come back later) The toilets were so badly looked after and disgusting that people had given up using them and would just walk in the door and go on the floor in the corridor. Katie and I, unsuspecting little innocents, walked in and I stood in human faeces. If you’ve ever had this vile experience happen to you, you will completely understand – it was sooo sickening! Anyway, enough of that…the bus station was very dirty, even by Indian standards, so our first impressions of Gujerat got off to a great start! However, this got better. We had a very hot 9hour bus journey on a very full bus and arrived in Bhuj in the evening. Gujerat surprised me as it looks so different to the other area’s of India we have seen. It is dry, dusty and flat. We went through 9 hours of wilderness, just complete nothingness. It wasn’t pretty, but it wasn’t the opposite either, it was just all the same, dusty, flat land with shrubs, and very little habitation, since it has become clustered in the cities.We stayed with a lovely family in Bhuj, who Katie had contacted through ‘Hospitality Club’, a website similar to Couchsurfing. The son, who is on the site, used to work for an NGO, working with the rural people living in the Kutch desert, which surrounds Bhuj. The huge earthquake in 2001 has meant that NGO’s are still doing a lot of (very good) work in this area of Gujerat. Kuldip’s family live in a relocation site, the closest thing to a housing estate I’ve seen in India. NGO’s built houses in a planned out grid and sold them at low prices, not making a profit, after many people lost their homes. At least 10% of the population died in the earthquake. In the hostel we have 2 girls from Gujerat, who told us once about their experience of the earthquake. They were in school, and saw their classmates die. Later that day, they had to travel home in trucks full of bodies. The earthquake damaged many buildings, so there are constant reminders of it everywhere. We visited the palaces, most of which you can only access the ground floor of, the higher floors are still unstable. There are huge cracks all over the buildings. One palace was eerie and surreal but really interesting; it had just been abandoned, and so was a home for millions of pigeons. The Maharaja who built the palace had tried to copy European styles, so that there were lots of falling apart and decaying stuffed animals, huge Greek plaster stautues (complete with very stylish gold paint…) and everything was cracked and damaged from the earthquake and covered in dust and the results of the pigeons. Typical India, no effort had been made to clean it up, tourists come to see it exactly as it had been left. There was something eerie and sinister about it but yet it was facinating and you felt drawn to it.In one palace, the Maharaja’s bedroom featured big ugly mirrors everywhere. Very vain people these Maharajas…Kuldip’s mum also taught us a little bit of Gujerati cooking, which was amusing and showed me up to be the most incompetent cook in the universe! She spoke no english, and I spoke no Gujerati, but it became quite funny that we couldn’t undertsand each other, and felt really good when we did! She was married at 16, and left 8th standard to do so (legally children are supposed to complete 10th standard, which is like GCSE). She was very pretty, but came across as quite young, despite having 2 grown up children. Kuldip’s brother is studing in the UK, doing an NVQ near Birmingham. His parents mortgaged their house so he could do this. Kuldip’s mum has recieved an offer from a Gujerati lady living in the UK to come and be her maid, and cook for her, so she is considering this. It’s easy to see why someone would want to pay her to come all the way over to the UK – she was an awesome cook! Gujerati food, like most areas of Northern India is very focused on breads, where southern food involves insane ammounts of rice. So we ate chapatis for lunch and dinner, and the leftovers for breakfast. Her cooking involved lots of oil and ghee, but tasted really good!We went to the police station and got a permit to go into the Kutch desert (you need a permit because it borders Pakistan. However, the border is well patroled so it is not very dangerous), but unfortunately there was no space in the jeep (a jeep for the NGO Kuldip worked for was going, and this is the only way to get to the villages in Kutch and back in one day) so we couldn’t got in the end. We did go to the coast however, and saw Gujerati ship building. They were huge wooden ships, that looked like something you see in history books about the Vikings. We saw another big European style palace, in the middle of nowhere, that overlooked the sea. It was beautiful, these Maharajas lived very nice lives while their subjects were living in slums and dying of hunger and disease every day… They filmed a Bollywood movie there – the kind of location everyone dreams of living in.We enjoyed Gujerat, mainly because we stayed with some really nice people, and had a good balance of independence during the day, and spending time with them in the evenings. One evening Kuldip’s friends came round and played Gujerati and Hindi music for us. Kuldip played the harmonium and his friends found pots about the house and used them amazingly well as drums, with the help of their rings too.I managed to miss the exciting moment when a Cobra was found in the street and the whole neighbourhood went outside to watch as the men chased it and battered it and then threw it off the cliff.One of the best bits about Bhuj was that we all slept on the roof under the stars. The housing area is outside the town, in the middle of the wilderness, so you could see all the stars. It was really hot and dry during the day, and then quite cold at night.After 2days, we got an overnight trian from Bhuj to Ahmedabad and then slept for a few hours on the metal chairs in the crowded waiting room (here the lovely, kind, indian people turned into soldiers fighting for survival in the dog-eat-dog mission to get a chair to sit/sleep on) and then we got on another train (we were again waiting list, but again got seats!) up north to Jodhpur, in Rajastan. We arrived in Jodhpur (yes its the home of those Jodhpur riding trousers!) about 8pm and found a really nice guest house to stay in. The family that run it are very friendly and we got a nice room, with a TV and a shower and an AIR COOLER! (luxury or what?!) and managed to barter the guy down to our usual budget, because it is the off-season (because nobody in their right mind comes to Rajastan in the summer…’mad dogs and englishmen’).In Jodhpur, we visited the fort and the Maharajas palace. When the Maharajas lost their power, the current Maharaja turned his fort and palace into a museum, hotel and living place for him and his family. We had to pay a 250Rs foreigner price, but this also entitled us to use our cameras and to get an audio tour thing (very high tech!), so we didn’t mind so much. This meant that we learnt lots about the Maharajas, the fort and Rajastani culture. The architecture in Rajastan is beautiful! Its the kind of thing people think about when they think of beautiful Indian architecture – Northern India. Here, there’s lots of sandstone and marble and beautiful, intricate carving and detail. The man let us pay the student price of 200Rs too, because of our letter. Here, I felt the system was very fair.Gujerati clothes were very different to those we had seen in the south, especially the saris, which are tied totally differently. Rajastani clothing is different again. Turbans are traditionally worn here too, and the colours are symbolic. Colour can denote caste, for instance pink means the wearer is a Brahmin, or the wearer’s personal situation, for instance darker colours, like dark blues and greens can mean mourning or sorrow, but these are also the colours worn by Muslims. Moghuls wear black. The colours of a woman’s sari can also be symbolic; young women wear bright cheerful colours, especially unmarried women.We found a great omlette street stall called ‘The Omlette Shop’. In touristy places like Rajastan, and Hampi, shops have cottoned on to guides such as the lonely planet and now advertise their recommentations on their shop signs. It makes you feel like a total cliche!Today, we went to a beautiful memorial/tomb, which was all in white marble. There were loads of pigeons, which flew around us and out into the desert. Katie and I sat on the grass (sitting on grass is a luxury! The only nice grass is well kept by gardeners and so you can’t walk on it) in front of this beautiful building and did some yoga for the first time since we started travelling. We walk around a lot, and the locals think we’re mad, walking in the sun, when we are obviously rich white people and should be in chauffeur driven jeeps with a/c and tinted windows. I am starting to get really tired of ‘hallo!’ and ‘(What is) your good name?’ and ‘Your native place?’ or ‘Which country?’ and have started having some fun with it. The latest is that my name is Mongoose and I am from Madagascar – no-ones ever heard of Madagascar…or mongeese… This might seem cruel, but you’ve already made their day by talking to them anyway, they will go home that night and tell their family they talked to a white person. I’m looking forward to not being a ‘white person’ or a ‘foreigner’ anymore! Although it may be a bit of a culture shock not to be famous anymore!So, I’m really enjoying my time travelling. It’s tiring and there are some not so nice moments and times when I’d like to just be in familiar England, but if you put a plane in front of me now, I wouldn’t go home. I’ll be really sad to leave India when I do (which is the 8th August!!), but also excited to be going home.Tonight we’re off to Jaisalmer and in a few days Mungo leaves us because he is going back home to the UK and we will carry on up north on our own, until we meet Hannah, Alice, Buffy, Tasha and Rosie – hopefully – and pehaps Alex, the guy we met on the way to Goa, at different points.

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