India: Mumbai, Kerala and Rajasthan

A temple in the Elephanta Caves

India – why India? A really strange reason: I went to a school in Tanzania, and one of the guys who went there, had decided that India would be a great place for a bunch of us to meet. Rajasthan to be precise. At some place called Neemrana. The attitude in general was, why not, we haven’t been there before, and since we all live all over the world, we would all be travelling far to catch up.
Originally, I thought I wouldn’t go – a case of ‘been there, done that’. As a child, we had lived in Pakistan (West Pakistan in those days), and had often hopped across to India to see amazing sites; one of them being the Taj Mahal. Seeing things as a child and seeing things as an adult, are two very different things. I decided to go.
I booked my room at Neemrana Fort Palace. Then invited my daughter, and rebooked to accommodate her. And then made travel plans.

We landed in Mumbai just after midnight, expecting a quiet airport. Not so, it was buzzing like it was peak hour at any other airport. We found the taxi that the hotel at arranged with no problem, and drove into Mumbai proper. Our first taste of Indian traffic – it just doesn’t stop!

Mumbai by night.

Our hotel, The Gardens in the suburb of Garala, was simple, but more than adequate. It had been an internet booking – our travel agent only had ‘recommended’ hotels at ridiculous prices on record, and all I’d read about Mumbai was that hotels were very expensive. This reasonably priced place was the most pleasant of surprises. 

After a good sleep, breakfast was served at their sister hotel two doors down, and there I ran into my first problem. With our waiter. His English was as bad as my Hindi, and as I didn’t know what to order, he brought me bowls of nearly everything the kitchen could deliver – and being polite I ate just about everything; curry for breakfast is a harsh way to get introduced the country’s cuisine. Other than the curried dishes, the breads and fruit salad were delicious.

Our first excursion was to be to Elephanta Island, an island off Mumbai Harbour. One catches a ferry from the impressive monument, Gateway of India, built to commemorate George V of Britain, when India was part of the British Empire.

Gateway to India with the Taj Mahal Hotel in the background.
Elephanta Caves.

 It is built in Islamic style, so it doesn’t look very British at all. We had asked the reception desk at the hotel how to get there, could we do it by taxi? Rajesh, the front office man, looked at us quizzically. Taxi? Why do you want a taxi? It’s around the corner, he said. I asked if that was safe to go walk there, and was told, yes, of course it was. Rajesh went on to advise me to leave our passports at the hotel, not to take too much money, just what was needed, and to enjoy the stroll.

Off we walked. Someone asked if I wanted a taxi – I cheekily answered, no we had legs. Slaine was mortified – the taxi driver’s friend was legless and in a wheel chair, and I hadn’t noticed. I felt a complete twit.

Walking along the waterfront, we were harassed by assorted touts, but dodged them successfully, until a seller of jasmine flower bracelets came along. A child of about 14, complete with baby. ‘Food for the baby’ she beseeched us. All our ‘no’s’ only resulted in her deftly tying the bracelets on our wrists. 

Blessed chords from a Holy man, and jasmine bracelets.

Now what? How much does one pay for a jasmine bracelet? A crowd gathered, we asked what we should pay, no-one was about to answer, so I eventually gave her Rs150 (about R10) for each one, and got away. A few metres, down, what I can only describe as a venerable elderly man approached us, and wanted to know why we had paid so much? I replied that I didn’t know what the going rate was, did I? Why didn’t the people in the crowd help? He shook his head in a ‘you’re a daft tourist’ manner and left us. 

We walked past the Taj Mahal Hotel, which had been the centre of the bombings in 2008. A magnificent hotel – it was built by an Indian in response to not being allowed into a prestigious British establishment because of his colour, in effect saying: ‘up yours’ and giving a virtual middle finger to the British Sahibs. The park and square were bustling with tourists, vendors, priests and Holy Men. One Holy Man cornered me in the same manner that the young girl had, and deftly tied a red and yellow ‘holy’ bracelet on my arm. Not wanting to earn the ire of more locals, I walked away, without giving him anything, and still feel bad about it. 

How does one learn when to, and when not to give out money? We eventually learnt to have rolls of 1 Rupee notes on us. These notes, which are practically worthless to us tourists, can get given to everyone, and their small value is greatly appreciated.

We bought our ferry tickets, and the crossing was uneventful. Elephanta Island was breath-taking. On the island is a series of caves that have had the most amazing temples and statues carved into them, depicting scenes from Hindu religion, particularly the cult of Shiva.

Carving of Shiva at the Elephanta Caves.

 The earliest dating is the 3rd century BCE, although most of the carvings were done between 450 and 750 CE, and was known as Gharapuri, the Place of Caves. 

Temple within the Elephanta Caves.

It was renamed Elephanta, because of the huge stone elephant that stood at the entrance. Unfortunately, colonists, particularly the Portuguese, caused a lot of damage by using the colossal monument, including the elephant for target practice. Deep sigh, how could they be so stupid and arrogant?

Alighting from the ferry, one can either walk up to the caves, or take the miniature train. When the train stops, you can climb the steps, or you can hire a doli, a chair carried by four men, in royal fashion.

The Doli experience.

 We got carried. It was an experience, and the men made a living, but I really don’t think I want to experience that again, humans should not have to carry other humans for a living; I felt very uncomfortable, perched at shoulder height, looking down on everybody.

Vendors line the steps, and everything can be bought. Jewels, clothes, incense, food. Slaine had her first experience of being suckered: a young man sold her several pairs of pants, supposedly sewn by his sister. As she was to find out, those same pants are sold all over India, made by the thousands for the tourist trade. But who are we to say that his sister wasn’t employed in such a factory?

The caves themselves are just fantastic. 

A modern stylized Linga and Yoni at Neemrana.

Just about every surface is covered in relief statuary, of Shiva mostly. Smaller temples hewn out rock in the caves, have the phallic Linga and female Yoni (Hindu male and female symbolism of life) symbols and statues, often surrounded by freshly placed flowers and burning incense.

What I really found fascinating was the number of Indian tourists who were there to marvel at their heritage. 

Beautiful tourists in their country.

Slaine was completely taken aback that Indians from different provinces have to speak to each other in English because of the language differences.

We also learnt how her blond hair was appreciated; she was continuously mobbed. Mobbed in the nicest possible way, but mobbed nevertheless, for photographs. There were times when she’d be surrounded by 20 odd people, mostly men, but also women, asking to be photographed with her. Having done modelling, she took it in good grace, and posed, and smiled. When she wasn’t in the mood for paparazzi, she simply covered her hair with a scarf. It was only when we were back in South Africa, that I realized what the attraction is. She may be blonde, but with her eyes and bone structure, she is actually looks like a blonde Indian. At Durban airport, not long after our trip, I saw an Indian lady who was a darker double of Slaine. I’m just sorry that I didn’t speak to her.

The rest of the days in Mumbai were spent playing real tourists. 

Mumbai: Slums and skyscrapers.

We hired a car and driver, and saw as much as we had time for. Did you know, that on just about every street corner, and open patch of grass, you’re bound to see boys playing cricket? Traffic in Mumbai was interesting to say the least. Once we got stuck in a Muslim ceremony. Hundreds of cars, many floats, musicians and followers caused traffic to come to a stand till for a while. The traffic may be hectic, but it is always polite.

Muslim parade through Mumbai.

 Hooters are continuously used, but as a warning: an ‘I’m coming, have you seen me?’ type of announcement.

One thing that we were asked before leaving home, was, how could we cope with the filth? I replied I lived in Transkei – filth and litter are the norm there, so I didn’t think it would affect me. Litter there was; the worst place was along the causeway to the ‘floating’ mosque, Haji Ali. Built on an island, at high tide, it gives the illusion of floating out in the bay. 

At low tide, the causeway is used by thousands of worshippers and

 pilgrims visiting the tomb of the saint. But it is filthy, the litter is mind boggling; do not go there in open shoes.The causeway is also lined with beggars, who are mostly disfigured and maimed. These people have been taken into the beggar industry at an early age; they are purposefully maimed for life, sometimes by being blinded, sometimes by having limbs broken and twisted into grotesque shapes, and their lot in life is to earn money by begging, for their beggar masters. These sights are an ugly, but part every day Indian life. Avoid this site if you’re faint hearted.

The Mosque is beautiful, shimmering white against a bright blue sky. A word of advice: always, in your bag, carry a ‘modesty’ scarf or shawl, or preferably two. Many cultures and religions disapprove of us western females going bare headed, having bare shoulders, and wearing pants or shorts. Modesty shawls and scarves can quickly be wrapped around you as a skirt, and thrown over your head and shoulders, making you instantly welcome at a site. Respecting the peoples’ cultures will ensure you enjoy the country more and that you will see much more.

Gandhi house was visited, so was the university, the amazingly beautiful railway station, the parks and the beach.

 Café Leopold was on my go-to list and was ticked. Have you read the book Shantaram? Café Leopold features a lot in the book. Their pistachio ice cream and their coffee is as delicious as it was described in the book.

Café Leopold was one of the locations attacked in November 2008, by Pakistan based Islamists. The attack on the Taj Mahal Hotel was the worst, but many other locations in Mumbai were also attacked, one being the Café Leopold, where the now famous bullet holes in the walls are clearly visible. 

The Taj Mahal Hotel at night.

Our time in Mumbai, being up, we caught our flight south to Kerala. We landed in Thiruvananthapuram. Yep, seriously, that’s the name of Kerala’s capital. For what I think is an obvious reason, it is still referred to by its colonial name, Trivandrum. We got ourselves a taxi and drove down to our resort at Kovalam; eventually finding it down some narrow little lanes, after our driver had enquired several times about our destination from residents. We weren’t quite on the beach, about a five minute walk away. Our resort, booked through time share, was supposedly self-catering, but equipment in the kitchen area was minimal, so we explored the nearby restaurants. We found our favourite almost immediately, it was on the beach. They got me hooked on a south Indian dish: Mint Chicken Curry. It’s hardly curried, just full of the most divine flavours.

‘Our’ beach, wasn’t the greatest,  the waves were of the dumping variety, so we spent more time in the resort’s swimming pool and their fun jacuzzi fixtures. We were rather surprised to find that the beach was segregated. 

The long beach was sort of cut in half by a raised grassy area, that had coconut palms with squirrels living in them. Our section of the beach was for infidels and scantily clad tourists. The other side was where the Muslim residents chilled or played football.

There are crows. Crows in their hundreds were everywhere, and the noise was incessant. A sort of harsh continuous background noise. As a keen bird watcher, I was disappointed that there were only a few other species of birds around; I do think most had been chased off by the Indian House crows. Instead of watching birds, we had fun watching the squirrels. running up and down the coconut palms.

View from our favourite restaurant at Kerala.

A car and driver was hired, at a set price for the duration of our stay; the driver insisted on having a friend with him. This wasn’t an unpleasant arrangement, although the friend was a bit of a hustler. Once he realized we weren’t falling for his ‘best price’ and ‘made by my cousin’ stories, we all got along just fine. We went to temples, other beaches, touristy areas, and great restaurants where the locals ate. One meal in particular was memorable. A working man’s restaurant was the venue, and we got there at the lunch rush hour. We were presented with platters of small bowls,

Our most memorable meal in India was at the working man’s restaurant.

which all had different dishes in them. A waiter then went around with a huge pot of rice on his shoulder, and dished up rice to all those who wanted it. The price of our lunch for the four of us, was less than what you’d pay for a toasted sandwich in South Africa.

The temples were amazing. Ancient, very often with sacred, holy lakes or pools next to them. The blatant sexuality depicted in some of them was educational. At one temple, I was warned about taking Slaine inside, because of the carvings. She went in, and got educated! The copy of the Karma Sutra that she was later given, had nothing in it, compared to what the temple’s carvings had. 

Offerings of fresh fruit to the pantheon of Gods were always plentiful, as was burning oil lamps and incense.

Palaces were visited too, and we were fascinated to visit the women’s living quarters, the harems. The women had to watch what their male relatives got up to, by crouching on the floor, and viewing the goings on through an intricately carved lattice screen. Later, we went down to the hall that they had viewed from above, and looking up, it was impossible to see anything, so the women’s modesty was well preserved.

The palaces looked after, and often, fed not only the royal families and their immediate retainers, which were numerous, but also whole armies. The logistics of producing enough food for them all must have been a nightmare. One palace proudly showed off their kitchen arrangements of huge pots and fire places. My question was: where did all the food come from?

Elephants were often seen in the streets. Dressed up and decorated for ceremonies, they were truly beautiful, with their Mahuts sitting atop them. 
Elephants are usually well respected, 

and are well looked after. While we were there, a newspaper ran the story of a temple elephant running amok, and killing an onlooker. The dead onlooker seemed to be the least of the authorities’ concerns. The wildlife people and vets descended on the elephant immediately, and removed her to a place of safety for observation, to check on her health. A few days later, there was an updated story that she, the elephant, had been found to be in good health, and was released back into her owner’s care. The dead onlooker, a woman, wasn’t mentioned.

Centuries old Ayurvedic medicine is practiced in the area. An Ayurvedic masseuse was next to the resort, and we had a number of these health improving massages. The massage table is a huge, carved affair, something like snooker table, with raised sides, so that the copious quantities of oil that are used on you, don’t get sloshed onto the floor, as the two masseuses work all your stress away, but drains away at a corner, very reminiscent of the holes where the snooker balls go.

Bananas and coconuts on the their way to a local market.

One cannot visit Kerala without taking a journey on the waterways, the so-called Backwaters of Kerala. There about 900 kilometers of waterways. 

Punted boat on the backwaters.

One can overnight on a houseboat, be chugged around in a motorised boat, or you can be punted through the watery maze. We chose to be punted, and I saw some amazing birds on the trip. Before roads were built, transport and commerce was water borne, and it still is to a large extent, in that area. We passed many boats heaped high with coconuts and bananas on their way to the market. Over peak tourism seasons, the waterways can get very clogged with traffic, so if that is the time you are visiting Kerala, it may be advisable to skip a Backwater trip.

We also took a drive down to Kanyakumari, officially formerly known as, but still called Cape Comorin. This is the tip of the Indian sub-continent, over the water is the island of Sri Lanka. Our driver pointed out that this was where three oceans met. “Look – see the different colours of the water?” Says he: “There are three different colours, because 3 different oceans meet here: the Indian Ocean, the Sea of Bengal, and the Laccadive Sea”. We duly acknowledged that indeed the waters at the tip of India was multicoloured, but we didn’t tell him the facts, as that would have ruined his story telling. The water is tri-coloured, but that has nothing to do with three different oceans, it has to do with water density, and the amount of fresh water and mud held in suspension in waters spewed out in to the ocean from the different rivers running into the different seas.

Cape Comorin was also hit by the massive 2004 Tsunami that devastated Thailand. It is sad, but if we don’t see a report in main stream media of what is happening in the world, we just don’t get involved. All the news had been about the horrors experienced in Thailand; we are all familiar with the devastation that that had wreaked havoc there – but who saw anything about Cape Comorin having been hit, also almost being in direct line of the massive wave? Thailand had been fixed up, because so much international attention had focused on it. Sadly, not many people in the word outside of India knew about Cape Comorin. We could still see the damage 10 years later.

A smaller, closer island, really a rock, is the home to the shrine or temple to one of India’s greatest spiritual men: Swami Vivekananda, a disciple of Ramakrishna, and the founder of the Ramakrishna Mission. 

This memorial, the Vivekananda Rock Memorial, very nearly caused a religious war in India in the early 1960s. That would have been anathema to Svami Vivekananda, as he preached love and empathy to all. A group of his followers decided to build a memorial on this rock, which is said to be where the Goddess Kumari attained enlightenment. Her name is incorporated into the name Kanyakumari. The Catholics of the area objected, insisting that the Rock should be named St Xavier’s Rock. A huge cross was erected, and it was mysteriously taken down one night. Both factions were in in uproar. 

The environmental affairs office of the Indian government intervened, and declared that the building of a memorial would not be environmentally sound, so the idea was scrapped for a while. Then, a member of the Memorial Committee went and 

The enormous statue of Swarmi Vivekanda

petitioned Indian members of Parliament to support the building of the memorial. With enough signatures to hand, the government had no choice but to allow the building of the monument. Fund raising was done, and many Indians donated as little as one rupee, but they can rightly say that they contributed to the erection of the buildings.

It is also a tourist attraction. An extremely ancient, engine spluttering ferry was to take us over to the Rock. The ferry was overcrowded, the wooden rails were rotted, bits of what seemed important parts of the vessel were tied together with wire. I told Sláine to stand with me at the rail; not to lean against it, mind you, as it really looked like it would collapse at any stage, and should anything happen, that she should climb as high as she could, and jump as far into water as far from the boat as possible. We spent a few hours on the Rock, and then made our way back to Cape Comorin, passing through the three different seas.

Our driver and his friend, who had been so amazing during our week in Kerala, let us down on the last day. We had arranged that they would drive us to Trivandrum airport for our early flight to Delhi. Well, they just didn’t pitch. The trip to the airport was an extra fare, but maybe they had made enough money from the week, not to bother to come pick us up. Thank goodness that the night manager was on hand to call another taxi, and we caught our flight with no problem.

India is huge, which is why it is referred to as the Indian subcontinent. A flight of nearly 5 hours got us to Delhi airport, where a number of the other school reunion attendees had also arrived, some straight from Europe, some from Nepal, some from Goa. Seeing old friends for the first time in years is always fun, but it can be hectic at an airport like Delhi’s. 

When applying for your Indian visa, make sure you request a multiple entry one. Those of the group who had first gone to Kathmandu, had made the mistake of going through India, as in setting foot on Indian soil. Coming back to India, constituted a second attempt to enter India on a single-entry visa. Obviously, without the correct visa, entry was refused, and they had to stay in Kathmandu.

Thank goodness that one of our group’s father was a highly placed lawyer, and he was able to sort the mess out after a few days.

We all piled into a bus, and were driven along the highway to Neemrana. Occasionally, traffic would slow on account of a camel with rider, taking up a lane. Neemrana is about halfway between Delhi and Jaipur, in northern Rajasthan. The mountains on our left were the Himalayas.


Neemrana, a fort palace,  now converted into a hotel, is built on eleven different levels. Nearly all rooms and public areas have kept the style and furnishings of the palace. It is reached up a winding driveway, to the entrance gate, which was built to accommodate elephants, the then mode of transport. Elephants do not like lifting their feet, so in all historical Indian palaces, forts and temples, the entrance is wide and high to accommodate an elephant and its baggage, and with a gradual slope with ‘elephant’ steps, which are about a meter deep, and only a few centimeters high.

Rajasthan, as the guide books say: is a mix of near desert, ancient palaces and the people dressed in amazing colours.

The odd Rhesus Macaque monkeys were seen, but that was all in the way of wildlife. The few trees there were, were literally bowed down with ring necked parakeets. There were hundreds of these bright green birds, and they would fly about in large flocks.

We were taken to a Step Well. This is a well, that is most easily described as a gutted multi-storey house that has been inverted and sunk into the ground. This one had 13 levels. Water levels were low, so we could walk down to about the 10th level. 

Maybe that should be the 3rd level? Steps lead down, and on the sides of the steps, are niches or hollows, where the people would take shelter while washing or collecting water. This well was hundreds of years old – how many thousands of people have walked those steps over the eons?

A trip to Agra was arranged; we’d spend the night in the ancient city. Agra is where the Taj Mahal tomb of Empress Mumtaz Mahal is. This magnificent building, built by the Empress’ grieving husband, Emperor Shah Jahan, built in Islamic architectural style, is clad in marble and decorated with precious stones, cut into floral shapes. 

No description, no matter how florid, can do this monument justice. Shah Jahan was later deposed and imprisoned by his son Aurangzeb in the Red Fort in Agra. The rooms where he was confined, look out towards the Taj Mahal – that was the closest he would be to the love of his life in his later years.

The entrance to the Taj Mahal makes one wonder if one got the address right. Its red brick entry, gives no hint of the magnificence behind it. Security is tight, and is manned by army personnel. No liquids or paper are allowed in, and shoe covers have to be worn. Even guide books had to be left at the security check. Water bottles are issued when you buy your entry ticket, and all bags are checked and searched. I must have looked like a won’t-set-fire-to the-Taj-Mahal-person, as I was allowed to keep my guide books. One of our party had marijuana in her bag. The army guy pulled it out, and asked her what it is. She replied as nonchalantly as possible: ‘oh, that’s just some shit’. He opened up the bag with the air of a connoisseur, sniffed it, wrinkled up his nose in disgust, and agreed, ‘yes, that is some shit. Very bad quality’, and then threw it the trash can.
The Taj Mahal: visit it, and you can write your own tome of its splendour. Everything about it, from the immaculately 

manicured gardens, to the views, the verses of the Quran inlaid in the marble, the decorations, the cenotaphs of the fake tombs (Mumtaz and Jahan rest together, in an underground vault closed to the public), is magnificent.

One of my best memories of Agra, was visiting a craftsman who creates beautiful, useful, pieces of art from marble inlaid with precious stones, in similar patterns to those on the Taj Mahal, with the same age-old method, as the craftsmen used on the Taj Mahal. No power saws, no drills, just amazing skill, and hard work done with traditional tools. I brought a small tray, which sits on my dressing table. One day, when I’m big (read: rich), I’m going to order a table for my verandah, a huge, yes, kinda kitch, marble table, inlaid with precious stones in flower patterns. 

My other best memory, was that as we were about to leave our hotel in the new part of Agra, I asked our taxi driver to first take us to where friends were staying, at a guest house in the Old City, so we could say our good-byes. He refused. I involved the hotel management – after all, I was very happy to pay for the extra route and time. It turned out that the refusal was because he couldn’t go. 

My gallant knight and I.

Only tuk tuks , motorcycles, donkey or horse drawn carts and feet are allowed on the ancient streets. Also, an ordinary car, is just too wide for the alley ways. What to do? I had to say good bye. Call a tuk tuk I said. No, that would take too long, said the manager. He had a better idea, and disappeared, only to reappear a few minutes later on a motorbike. Hop on, let’s go, said he. Our luggage was in the taxi, the taxi was unknown. He was asked to wait. My daughter couldn’t go, and her face at the thought of being abandoned by mommy riding off on a motorbike with a strange man, was classic. I ordered her to go into the hotel and wait for me there, with my handbag; I only took my phone, and some cash in a pocket of my jeans. ‘Mommiiiii……..  ‘, she wailed. We headed off, weaving through the traffic, then got into the old part of town, and negotiated the narrow alley ways, missing children playing, politely hooting at pedestrians, having to wait for some donkeys laden with bricks to get out the way. They didn’t have a herder/driver/guide – what does one call a donkey looker after? They seemed to know where they were going, all abreast, blocking the road, as if they owned it. 

We got to the guesthouse, I said my au revoirs, jumped back on the motorbike, took the same route back to the hotel, and was reunited with my very worried daughter, and a taxi driver who wasn’t too sure of the sanity of his one passenger.

Our destination was Gurgaon, somewhere on the outskirts of Delhi. I had booked it through timeshare, and the journey seemed to take forever. We bounced around on very pot holed dirt roads, at times slushing through muddy spots that would have made a 4x 4 track proud.It had been dark for a few hours when we arrived at Gurgaon. I do think the taxi driver took a very scenic roundabout route, making the taxi fare seem worth every rupee. 

We checked in, were allocated a lovely cottage, and had an early night, after first watching a bit of TV, with one of our now favourite Indian adverts being aired, the Gujarat Tourism adverts, featuring the actor Amitabh Bachchat, with the catch line: ‘Breathe in a bit of Gujarat’. If you need convincing to visit India, search for these adverts on You Tube – you’ll be packing for India shortly.

In the morning, we explored the resort – a typical resort, with swimming pools, beautiful gardens and entertainment facilities.
Differently, there were guards that were armed with some serious looking rifles. I asked why they were armed to that extent, and I was told it was for monkeys.

Monkeys. Seriously? How big were these monkeys? The monkeys turned out to be Rhesus Macaques, and they were quite attenuated to humans, which made them potentially dangerous. Slaine had a near run-in with one. I had gone bird watching, and my phone, a Blackberry, kept ‘pinging’. ‘Pinging’ was a Blackberry feature; it allowed you to try to get someone’s attention without actually calling or messaging them. It was Slaine, and I ignored it for a while, then decided to check what she wanted. I turned out, that as she had been lying on the bed, messaging her boyfriend, she had heard a ting ting type of noise, a metallic rattle. She’d ignored it, until a movement caught her eye, and it turned out to be a whopping great big male monkey, standing at the door, playing with the keys in the lock. Being brought up in an area where vervet monkeys were common, she knew the last thing she should do, was try and get past it, and out. She told it in no uncertain unladylike terms where to go, but that only made it leave the keys and go into the room. Ping! Ping! Ping! But she got no reaction from me, so she decided the best thing to do was make a run for the bathroom, and lock herself in there. Which she did, and then opened the door slightly to see what Mr Monkey was doing. He was pretty interested in our open suitcases, so she picked up the trash bin and threw it at him. He got the message that he wasn’t welcome, and loped off out of the front door. Maybe the rifles really were necessary.

Exploring the area was so different to Kerala. This area was dry, and pretty cold. The odd wild peacock added a splash of colour.

 The road to the nearby village had marijuana growing on both sides, like it does in Transkei, so we felt quite at home. The properties, fields included, were surrounded by high walls. There was none of the colour that made Rajasthan and Kerala so vibrant. Everything was a dull brown, the colour of the soil, or grey. Being a Muslim area, the men wore colourless shalwar kameez, a long tunic worn over pants, and the women wore black chadors, niqab or burkas, depending on how modest they were. With a chador, your hair is covered, and your face is open. Only your eyes are visible in a niqab, and in a burka – well, who knows if it is actually a woman  or a man under that all enveloping mask?

The camels are colourful; harnesses and saddles are bright and beautiful, and other bits of colour would pop up unexpectedly in places: wild peafowl were common, and the male peacocks were magnificent.

A day trip to Delhi by taxi was arranged. We did the tourist thing and visited the crazy, oh so crazy market. We purchased pretty scarves, etc, doing our utmost not to get ripped off by vendors trying to sell us items that we knew little about. One of these was scarves that were supposedly made of Shahtoosh wool (literally: King of fine wools), from the rare and endangered Tibetan Chiru Antelope.

I wasn’t popular, when I asked the vendor to do the test for the genuine product. The wool is so fine, that a scarf made of it, can be passed through a wedding ring. Even if it had been genuine, I would not have purchased it, as the only way to harvest the wool from this endangered antelope is to kill it. Herds of them get mowed down by machine gun fire in the mountains, by poachers, as it takes the wool of three to five antelope to make one Shahtoosh shawl. This is one of the ugly faces of tourism: when tourists are willfully ignorant, and choose to believe untrue fairytales. The commonly told story is that the wild antelope are herded together, sheared, and then let go again. Really? Just how daft are some people to believe that?

The market was completely crazy, but an unforgettable experience. Leaving it, we lost our driver and his taxi. This was not a pleasant experience, and I was catching a little panic, but after a while, he spotted us. Having picked us up, he said that he refused to take us back to Gurgaon, without first seeing some of the sights of Delhi. 

Happy to comply, we visited assorted monuments, including the Qutb Minar complex, which has ruins dating back to 1100CE.

Our departure day arrived, and we flew from Delhi to Mumbai, another longish flight. Mumbai airport was hectic, something had gone wrong; flights were delayed, and the ensuing chaos had us not getting into the departure area at all. I was disappointed, I had planned to do some last minute shopping there, as we had had a few hours before our flight to South Africa. Because of the chaos, we spent the entire time in customs halls and on buses, getting shunted from one terminal to the other; I swear the one drive was an hour long! At last we got on to our plane, after being herded at a very fast march to it, by the ground crew, who did their utmost to make the best of a bad situation. We all found are seats, and we took off almost immediately, and dinner was served quickly. Yep you guessed it, it was curry!

The galavanter getting an elephant blessing at the Elephant Sanctuary.


By Kathryn Costello

I travel. I read. I get up to mischief. I write about what I have been up to. I also have fun writing down the stories that I told my daughter when she was little about a dolphin named Michaela. I am a tourism consultant. Owning and managing a successful guesthouse, working for tourism organizations and travelling has given me a lot of insight about what makes a tourism orientated business successful.

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