It was a long one, spanning eleven days and five destinations. Apart from air and rail, there was plenty of road travel thrown in too. Dipti tells me I don't know how to relax during long journeys by car. I am invariably found staring fixedly at the road ahead. That's true. I am petrified of the sight of the careless dogs run over by speeding vehicles. Apart from grossing you out, there is also something heartbreaking about the sight. This time the driver in Rajasthan had an unique insight. He told us when dogs are running across a highway and sense a running vehicle close to them, instead of speeding like other animals do, they turn around and inevitably get hit by a car or a truck coming from the other side. That's why you are bound to come across one badly mutilated dog in any longish journey you embark on a highway.
Jodhpur was the quintessential small town. There isn't as much of blue as one expected but from the top of the fort, you get an aerial view of the whole place and notice the colour is restricted to the old and the less affluent section of the town. Those who are accusing Arundhati Roy of sedition may like to pay some attention to the royal family of Jodhpur. The history they have proudly displayed in their museum in the palace seem to indicate the pre independence Majaraja was more loyal to the British than the British themselves and earned special privileges from them. Even now, most of the locals we came across referred to the current incumbent as "His Highness." One of the waiters in the hotel we stayed in told us sadly that he had to change his name once he came to Jodhpur because "Highness ka naam bhi wahi hai." The prince is getting married in November and the whole city is gearing up for it. Well, whatever grouse one may have about Indira Gandhi and her emergency, she did ensure India was left with just one royal family- the Nehru-Gandhis.
From Jodhpur, we went to a desert camp set up by Manwar Resorts. The camp bang in the middle of Thar desert offers five star stay at exorbitant rates. Yet, the experience would be worth it, if the staff hadn't been trained to be so blatantly racist. They are polite enough but clearly discriminatory, reserving their best for the white tourists. I dashed off a mail to the owner Mr. Moti Singh after a particularly unacceptable incident and his reply came all contrite and apologetic. He offered to refund the entire amount but I declined. All I asked for was a hard copy of the invoice be mailed. But that is yet to arrive. This seems to be a racket in Rajasthan. When you are booking, they ask you to deposit the amount in their bank account and you learn later that the account belongs to an individual rather than the organization. Afterwards they look puzzled at the reception when you request for a copy of the invoice. I am sure there is some tax evasion angle to all this.
Jaipur was just a night's halt and apart from the stay at another heritage hotel with an imposing door, all we did was visit Crosswords the next morning. I am sure if we had stayed longer, I would have encountered some more discrimination in my own country and gotten all worked up about it.
Our best experience in Rajasthan was in Ranthambore. The staff at "Pugmark" resort were simple and gentle folks. More importantly their service did not vary depending upon the colour of your skin. The jungle safari was good fun but we didn't spot any tiger and may have to go back for it some day.
We got back to Delhi and stayed with friends for a day. They took pity on us and took us the Delhi zoo where we finally saw the tigers!
The best part of the holiday came at the end, when we arrived in Landour from Delhi. The place is around 4-5 Kms from Mussoorie and has a breathtaking view of snow clad peaks. It is relatively unspoilt and thanks to the language school you find a lot of foreigners struggling over Hindi text books. It also has Ruskin Bond, a childhood hero of mine and we met him briefly.
On meeting Bond, I also remembered there is a pile of writing waiting to be done once I get back home. And that's what I am going to do starting today.