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Long route home Our trip all the way home, trying to catch no planes and stay on the ground like civilised people. It's taking us via India all the way to Europe from Japan, the furthest of the Far East...

Ach, men are bad

INDIA | Tuesday, 14 September 2010 | Views [411]

After a pretty grotty change from a night bus to a delayed day train, we came at midnight to the lovely city of Ahmedabad, capital of Gujarat.  Why go to Gujarat?  Two reasons really, it's on the way and a nice break between Mumbai and Rajasthan and there are lots of Gujaratis in England, so it's nice to see the homeland of so many Brits.  Ahmedabad was a funny place, especially in light of what came further north.  It's fairly off the tourist trail, though it's a very big city.  The centre of town has a fort and some decaying city walls as well as some mosques, so we duly went and wandered around them on our way to SEWA, a women's co-op selling textiles, which Gujarat is very famous for.  The shop was odd, the wares being brought out and splayed upon rugs for us to peruse, rather than having actual racks and so forth.  Someone's baby was toddling about, too, which made it all the more odd.  We left with a new kurta dress for Emma and a double bedspread, safe in the knowledge that they were genuinely benefiting local villagers and not exploitative parasites of factory bosses.  It was a shame we couldn't look at our choice of clothes, but we're learning that in India it's usually best not to apply logic, complain or suggest new ideas but to just go along with things.  We ended up in the Calico museum of textiles, an incredible family collection, housed in a carefully restored building. Sadly the guiding was completely mishandled - we were on a compulsory tour (after filling in a tedious form) with a lady who insisted on skipping past half the collection and seemed put out to have to answer any questions.  Given that she never actually answered any questions, simply repeating earlier lines or giving glib ripostes that were quite obviously made up, it was a bit out of order.  People hovered around constantly observing us to make sure we didn't damage anything, watching on with mute hatred.  Halfway through we asked our fellow tourers what they thought and it turned out that the silver fox we were with had been there 20 years before.  His reply was thus "it was the same then, the same ghastly dragons that wouldn't let you see any of the exhibits.  That time I was with some textile experts and we had to get the owners to force the witches to let us have a proper look around".  He was obviously really into his textiles in a professorial way and it was much sadder for him to miss out than us, I think.  For us it was just another cocked-up thing in India, of which there are so many.  The house of Mangandalas was a real highlight, providing a wonderful veggie thali with more dishes than there are banks in India, which is a lot.  Sadly, the paan (a mix of spiced betel nuts) at the end was too much for Em, who promptly brought it all back up.  Their shop had a sale so we picked up postcards and a beautiful silk kurta for Oli so we can both dress ethnic, and they also had a ganesh art vent with many painted elephant-headed gods to celebrate his festival.  We gave the idea of venturing further into Gujarat the cold shoulder due to being sick of travelling for three hours to spend an hour looking at things.

We also got invited to someone's house to take tea.  We'd made idle conversation with a guy who used to work in Watford, of all places.  He told us that his parents would be overjoyed to meet us and we should come back to his.  In a country of wierd things being normal, it didn't seem odd to us but see what you make of it.  Jay sat on one bed while we sat on the other, facing him.  All the women huddled on the floor at the end of the bed we were sitting on, shyly smiling while we chatted with Jay.  Grandma stayed in the kitchen the whole time, maybe out of preference, who knows.  Children were allowed to move at will, regardless of gender.  Jay's brother-in-law was allowed to join him on the bed, but not to talk to us, and he didn't appear able to join the women.  We talked of football and England, showed each other our passports and visas, took a few photos and stepped back into the rain.

It was eid in the evenings, too, so the Muslims of the city were out in force on the streets, shouting loudly and beeping car horns as part of some enormous ritual traffic jam.  Thankfully, our hotel was right outside the main celebrations so we managed to enjoy all of it.  Muslims don't have the best parties: no alcohol, dancing or drugs and the sexes strictly separated.  The last part, of course, in India means that there were no women out on the street.  Combining the testosterone-laden make-up of the crowds with the backdrop of frequent 'communal tensions'(aka bloody riots and slaughter between Muslims and Hindus) made for a pretty grim, provincial-British-town-on-a-friday-night atmosphere.  It lacked the friendliness that's otherwise been present in India so far, just having that air of barely-suppressed rage that's a key Indian characteristic.  Luckily it all kept calm, somewhat of a good thing with the big Hindu festival going on at the same time.

A nervous start on a train with no number or manifest printed on the side saw us travelling on the slow train towards Udaipur.  Normally in India the journey is punctuated every three minutes with ChaiChaiChai or CutletCutletCutlet or SamosSamosSamosaaa.  This train, we later learned, had no pantry car and so no foodsellers.  We waited for six hours before we could snack on crisps and the world's best moulded chocolate chip cookies after running off at the first station with a shop.  We later got cheeky samosas and chai at another station, but by the time we arrived at the excellent Kumbha Palace hotel we'd worked up a nice appetite for of all their finest food which we took on the roof looking at the fine city palace opposite.

The next day we wandered round to said palace to gawp at fine lattice, coloured glass and teeny tiny corridors seemingly built for dwarf pixies.  It was a very nice palace, not so exuberant as Mysore but delicately put together and well managed as a site.  We finished our tour of the palace by taking high tea in the adjoining hotel which was everything the Mumbai taj had failed in.  It had scones.  It had jam.  It had lake palace views.  Udaipur is reckoned to be the most romantic city in Rajasthan and maybe even India, but we weren't taken in.  It's set around a lake encircled by gently undulating hills but there's so much development one can't see that anymore.  The lake is predictably rubbish-strewn and there are swarms of little ratpackers that we thought we'd left behind in SEAsia.  All the shops sell the same factory-produced crap (though we did find a co-op) and have the usual smarmy sales patter.  24 hours was quite enough, so we set off for what is usually described as satan's own city (though not in a good way, like Las Vegas or Helskinki)...

 

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