India

Goodness Gracious Me!

Courtesy of 'Paramount 2', we're rediscovering the joy that is 'Goodness Gracious Me'. It didn't hit the mark every time, but there's a hell of a lot of good stuff in there. Tonight's episode had Sanjeev Bhaskar's "Skipinder: The Punjabi Kangaroo", which was just inspired. Skipinder essentially took episodes of 'Skippy' and dubbed them so that he sounded ike an alcoholic Punjabi.

'Going for an English' was their 'Dead Parrot' sketch, but other things tickle my fancy more. I have soft spots for several Sanjeev Bhaskar characters, the Guru Maharishi Yogi for one (roughly translated this is meaning....) and also 'Indian' guy (Superman? Indian! He runs faster than a speeding train... there's only one country you can run faster than the train!)

In the following clip (3 minutes in) which I found on youtube, Shampoo, Bungalow and Jungle really are all Indian words, the rest aren't (as far as I know):

I found the songs a little hit and miss, but some were really on the money, one that stuck in my head was 'I wanna live like Hindi People' in the style of Jarvis Cocker and Pulp.

I loved the fast bit, 'Comb your hair and be polite // do your homework every night // don't smoke fags don't play pool // do extremely well at school' - such a clever take on the original.

The Six Million Rupee man was great too, with 'Sanjeev Austin'

My favourite Meera Syal bit was 'Smeeta Smitten, Showbiz Kitten', I liked Nina Wadia doing the 'rich bitch' sketches, Kulvinder Ghir was great in the Bhangra Muffins. Meera Syal and Nina Wadia did a nice set of sketches where they were proud mothers, comparing the achievements of their offspring.

Nina Wadia these days seems to pop up on various shows, she took over from Meera Syal on a sitcom called 'All About Me' with Jasper Carrott. I haven't seen her recently though (Update: She's now in Eastenders). Kulvinder Ghir, last I heard, was working in Bollywood.

Meera Syal and Sanjeev Bhaskar went on to be in 'The Kumars at No. 42', which I didn't like at first as it seemed too contrived, but it grew on me. The Kumars has inspired similar series all over the world, and we even saw it in India over the new year.

We're hoping to get tickets for a recording at some point in the future. I've seen a clip where Meera Syal was in make up for 'The Kumars' talking to Sanjeev Bhaskar, one minute she was Meera Syal, the next Ummi. I saw the transition take place, but it was so total I still find it hard to believe that it's the same woman!

I am now, officially, a 'Person of Indian Origin'.Despite my situation (heck, I'm a Person of Indian Origin!) a few references had to be explained, the milk bottle for example. The aubergine references were bang on though, at the time Goodness Gracious Me went out, it seemed like every time Monica made some food it contained aubergine....

The one set of sketches that I never really liked was the Coopers and the Robinsons, a little too strained for my taste.

We like 'Goodness Gracious Me' quite a lot. If you're unfamiliar with it it might be worth taking a look on Paramount 2.

Altogether now (with a rising inflection): Ras Malai (and we ain't made 'em up neither this time)!

Back in Delhi

See Previous Date: 2nd January, 2006 Place: Kolkata

Happy New YearThe 1st was a day for travel. We had breakfast and checked out, then took the taxi to kasba (the guy tried it on by overcharging, but was refreshingly upfront about it saying "I'm requesting a little more..." - he had been very helpful, and he hadn't tried to rip us off so he got the extra).

Me, Monica's Mum, Barnali, Kalpona, Anupam ShejomashiMonica and her MumWe ate lunch at the flat, and lots of photos were taken.

The farewell was quite tearful, and as we left I said 'abar daka hobay', meaning 'we'll meet again'. This caused everyone to smile and cheer, mostly at my Bengali!

Anupam came to the station with us, seeing us safely onto the Rajdhani express. Again, we travelled first class here (and it's well worth it on such a long journey).

The journey was overnight, and they looked after us on the train, with linen, meals and so forth.

We stayed at the same hotel in Delhi as before, the Hotel Ajanta, and knew exactly where we were headed, so on arrival we walked purposely, ignoring the calls of 'Auto, sir?' and 'Taxi, sir?'

We arrived in short order, it's very close to the station - that was one of the reasons we chose it!

At the hotel, we hired a car for the day to take us around Delhi. As we were going around New Delhi too, it cost a little more - the sum of 600Rs, about 7 quid. Bargain.

The Red Fort in DelhiThe Jain Temple at the end of Chadni Chowk, opposite the Red FortWe started by going to the Red Fort. We weren't able to go in previously as it was late, this time it was Monday, it's closed on Monday. Still, we wanted a daylight visit. A good vantage point is at the end of Chadni Chowk and there is an interesting looking Jain Temple there too.

From there we went to Raj Ghat.

The site of Mahatma Ghandi's CremationThis was the place where Mahatma Ghandi was cremated. There are quotations all around the place in various languages, There are Ghandi quotes in Hindi, Urdu, Gujurati, Spanish, English, Zuli, Telugu and others, but no Bengali (that we could see). There were some works going on, so maybe the Bengali has yet to appear.

Humayun's TombInside Humayun's TombMonica on the wall surrounding Isa Khan's TombWe then went to Humayan's tomb, probably one of Delhi's best kept secrets. This is a huge complex, and it had very few visitors on the day we went. The tomb pre-dates the Taj Mahal, and one can see the architectural connection. It's essentially a sandstone Taj. The place isn't just the main tomb, there are outbuildings, each one is a fine piece of architecture in it's own right.

Isa Khan's TombIn some places, the walls can be explored, though this is a little hairy.

It's a great place to visit, though at one point tour guides did try to thrust themselves upon us, which I didn't appreciate - though Monica did listen to what one bloke had to say.

Humayun's tomb is much more peaceful than the Taj due to there being fewer people, although it doesn't quite have the same magic the Taj has, probably due to the marble the Taj Mahal is made from.

India GateShri Lakshmi Narayan Temple in DelhiFrom here, we went to India Gate, it may look just like the Arc de Triomphe or Marble Arch, but the thing is huge. As it's at the end of the Raj path, it needs to be big to be clearly visible from the President's estate and government buildings!

New Delhi (as opposed to Old Delhi) is a planned city, built symmetrically about the Raj Path.

At the suggestion of our driver, we went to the Shri Lakshna Narayan Temple, this was very beautiful, with Swastikas everywhere (the Swastika was appropriated by the Nazis, but is actually a much older symbol ). It's not possible to take photos inside the temple without causing offence and being ejected, so all I have to show you, dear reader, is a shot taken from the road outside.

The place is phenomenal, shrines to various Hindu Deities, enscriptions on the walls, and so forth.

As we left, a rather persistant chap tried to sell us all kinds of stuff. He simply wouldn't take 'no' for an answer, following us down the street and through the underpass (the car was waiting on the far side). He was really very annoying, and started to make me quite angry. His prices dropped phenomenally, he was soon asking for a third of his original price, effectively saying 'I just tried to rip you off massively'. I don't like that - if he had asked for the real price in the first place, he may have got a sale, but harrassing us like that made me want to hit him!

In the temple itself we bought a couple of items, I got a pencil tidy for my desk at work, and Monica got some earrings.

We finished the day by visiting the Cottage Industries Emporium. This was the usual sort of affair, textiles, jewellery and so forth.

I got a light scarf which should be good for the winter (50% silk, 50% pashmina) - though it was hard to find one that wasn't too over the top for my male European tastes. The colour isn't ideal, but it's not bad at all - it cost only 350Rs (about 4 quid). We looked at a few other bits and pieces, Monica spent some time looking at some handpainted pictures, but didn't buy any.

We went back to the hotel, eating at the Hotel Ajanta. To start, we each had Masala Papad (popadoms topped with spicy vegetables). Monica had a spicy soup and chow mein, I had seekh kebab with paneer parantha. We had a desert too. The whole lot, including a tip for the waiter and three bottles of water was 350Rs!

A note about water in India, be sure to check the seals of bottles when you buy - and don't buy bottles that look a bit battered. Also, when you're finished, crush the bottle. There is a mini-industry of people who collect old waterbottles and fill them from a tap of dubious quality.

Traffic in DelhiThe next day we would take a car to the airport and fly back to the UK. I took my chadoor on the flight, as it packed quite small, suitable for hand luggage, and would both be a nice blanket if I wanted to sleep, as well as being warm when I got off the plane in January in the UK.

New Year in India

See previous and next. Date: 31st December, 2005 Place: Kolkata

Monica was a little unwell in the morning, which was a bit of an inconvenience. Anupam arrived at around noon with some medicine for her. The plan for the day was to go to 'Science City' , but instead we went straight to Monica's Mum's flat. On the way, we saw a poor chap with leprosy, a truly horrible disease. The skin on his hand had gone, leaving the flesh raw and exposed. At the hotel, there was a donation box for leprosy relief, and I made sure that we put a chunk of change in there. Apparently the disease is quite difficult to catch, it needs a depressed immune system.

Anupam, Shejomashi and IWe popped into the flats of Monica's aunties today, seeing Shejomashi (third aunt) and then Boromashi (elder aunt).

Shejomashi was quite concerned that I was not to be bitten by mosquitos, and so fanned me for the whole time I was there!

Back at the hotel, we were not really up to partying the night away - we had a long day of travel ahead, and we were both a bit under the weather. A loud party at the back of the hotel did not keep us awake. Vey boring, but very necessary.

Walking in Kolkata

See Previous and next. Date: Friday, 30th December, 2005 Place: Kolkata

It was quite relaxed today, I took Monica out for a walk in the morning. We went down Camac Street and Shakespeare Sarani to a photo-processing shop, we wanted to get some prints for Monica's family. We then walked back down Shakespeare Sarani and turned onto Lord Sinha Street, going to the Gmami centre, specifically to the bookshop on the top floor.

We had a browse, Monica bought a couple of Rabindranath Tagore titles, and I bought a camera case as the zip had failed on my old one.

At the hotel, I had a fun time cashing a travellers cheque. They only had very low denominations available, and so I had to wait for the safe.

St. Paul's Cathedral in KolkataThe Birla PlanetariumMonica took a bath, and I went hunting for postcards - not easy in Kolkata - it's not really geared up for tourists! I went down AJC Bose Rd, then turned right and walked past St. Paul's and the Birla Planetarium, where we'd been a few days before. No luck, I walked back on Shakespeare Sarani, and on a whim went into the Landmark bookstore in the shopping centre on Lord Sinha street and found some.

When I returned, Monica was ready to go, and so we headed to the flat for the afternoon.

In the evening, we decided to pack, so we wouldn't be rushing to do so on New Year's Eve, or New Year's day itself. Then we went down to 'The Polo Bar'. This was pretty much the same as the previous time, we wrote a few postcards, listened to the Phillipino band murder some quite good tunes and so forth. Tonight, there was a belly dancer, who came with her own security guard.

To me, he resembled a member of an Indian tribute band for The Village People.

The Botanical Gardens

See previous and next. Date: Thursday 29th December, 2005 Place: Still in Kolkata

Ferry Terminal for a crossing of the Hooghly, KolkataDrawing closer to the Hooghly BridgeAnupam and Barnali met us at the hotel at about half nine, and we took a cab to the Hooghly River (thankfully the medicines we had taken that morning saw us through the day). I think it was near Millennium park where we caught the boat.

We travelled across the Hooghly, travelling away from the Howrah Bridge. The previous day I had seen this boat heaving with people, and was concerned that it'd be like that - but it was out of rush hour, and so it was not a problem and we had a pleasant trip - though the pollution was quite something.

At the far bank, we walked up to the main road and caught another cab to the Botanical Gardens, it was quite some way. The Botanical Gardens are huge, we only saw a fraction of them, and like most things in India, tourists are charged a higher rate than nationals.

In the gardens there are lakes, birds and (to European eyes) some strange plants.

The Great Banyan Tree in KolkataBanyan TreeOne of the highlights is the great Banyan tree. From a distance, the Banyan looks like a small forest, but it's actually one tree. It looks like many tree trunks whose branches have grown into each other, connecting the trunks. Everything you can see in these photos is one tree. The weird thing is that the entire tree has grown downwards to meet the ground from the sky - what looks like trunks are actually aerial roots.

This sounds impossible, what actually happens is that the tree starts to grow as usual, and then sends out horizontal branches. As these spread, they tend to collapse under their own weight, so they send down tendrils toward the ground, the aerial roots. When these touch the ground they begin to 'flesh out' and provide both nutrients and structural support. In the case of the great Banyan Tree, the original trunk that grew upwards was diseased and removed. All that's now left are the aerial roots.

The whole tree is some 430m in circumference, and still growing.

Reflections at the Botanical Gardens in KolkataCommercial River Traffic on the HooghlyWe walked in the Botanical gardens some more, stopping for some lunch (I didn't want any, but Anupam insisted I ate, so I had some crisps - I could face no more). By the time we took the boat back, the air had cleared somewhat, we could see people on the banks of the river washing clothes and themselves, and also we could see the bridges clearly, and the other river traffic.

The cab ride to Monica's Mum's was rather depressing. Unlike Agra, Delhi and Jaipur, Kolkata had been pretty hassle-free, but at one junction when the car stopped there was a small boy, followed by a disabled guy, then a blind guy, literally feeling his way from car to car asking for cash. All the advice tourists are given is not to hand out any money, for several reasons. This is all very well in principle, but rather different in practice when faced with such abject poverty. I found myself quietly shedding a tear.

At the flat I went to sleep rather rapidly, and I wasn't in the mood for food. One of the neighbours came in with some noodles which they had prepared for us - and it would have been rude not to accept. Then Kalpana produced a fish curry, I think they called it a Chilli-fish. It tasted like chicken.

It was the best fish curry to date. To my surprise the whole meal went down very well, I really didn't feel like eating beforehand, but am glad I did.

Back at the Hotel (Hotel Hindustan International), we decided to go for a drink and went down to the 'Polo Bar'. This is billed as an 'English Pub with a live Phillipino band'. They had a mix of songs, ranging from 'Every Breath you take' to Bollywood.

So, we were in an English Pub, with a Phillipino band, playing Hindi songs, in Kolkata, where the main language is Bengali.

Unfortunately the only beer they had was Heineken. So I did the only reasonable thing for an Englishman abroad in India - I had a Gin and Tonic (extra Quinine, dontchaknow, anti-malarial).

The waiter was particularly good, he was constantly scanning the room, and when he saw a customer running low on nibbles, they were topped up before the customer even noticed they were low, when a customer fumbled with a cigarette, he was there with a light. (A shame about the amount of smoke in the bar, but with all that pollution outside, what's a little more?)

The trick I couldn't work out was how to stop him before he replenished our snacks!

A quiet day in Kolkata

See previous and next. Date: 28th December 2005 Place: Kolkata

A bus on AJC Bose Rd, KolkataThe 28th was a quiet day, both Monica and I were struck with diarrhea (not literally I hasten to add) and so we spent much of the morning at the hotel. By mid afternoon I was feeling better and went to stretch my legs.

I went along AJC Bose Rd for a bit, then turned into Lord Sinha road and into the Emami Shoppers City - a quieter and cleaner New Market.

On the top floor is a store called 'Landmark', which is primarily an English Language bookshop, with some Hindi and Bengali. It also sells stationary, DVDs, VCDs and CDs. I got four DVDs including three films by Satyajit Ray.

Victoria Memorial, KolkataAn illuminated Peacock at Millennium Park, KolkataAt about half past four, Anupam appeared at the hotel and we both felt confident enough to go out. We went to the Victoria Memorial and walked around the gardens there, again, we didn't go in. From there we went up to Millennium Park, a new section had just opened. Millennium Park is a long thin park on the banks of the Hooghly. At night, the Howrah bridge looked like a suspension bridge, the lights on it made it look delicate, and one could not see the iron girder structure. Millennium Park was full of life, people around, a band playing - generally a nice spot.

We ate at the flat (mostly through politeness, neither of us felt well) - and the meal included some boiled green banana to settle the stomach.

Back at the hotel we found that neither of us felt as settled as we'd have hoped. We took some medication and crossed our fingers for the next day...

More Kolkata Shopping

See Previous and next. Date: 27th December, 2005 Place: Kolkata

On the 27th, Monica's cousin visited us. He wanted to take us out to buy something (this is the done thing in India, it's not polite to refuse). We took a cab to New Market again (actually, only partway, as he had an argument with the cabbie and we got out and walked). He was looking for a bronze statue for us, we went from place to place and were being asked for inflated prices. Things usually ended in an argument and we walked out. Eventually, I tried waiting outside the shop - as soon as we tried this, the prices roughly quartered. The message is, if shopping in India, take a local! He also got a leather wallet for me - it's Indian style, brown with nice patterns on it. It's a bit large for trouser pockets, but just right when I'm wearing a jacket.

We headed back on the metro (which was packed) and then to Monica's Mum's appartment.

Me, Monica's Mum, Barnali, Kalpona, Anupam ShejomashiIn the evening, Anupam arrived with a chadoor for me, as I said, it's really hard to stop people buying gifts! The chadoor is great, essentially it's the West Bengal equivalent of the poncho. It's a short long blanketlike thing which you wrap around your torso, and it keeps you very warm. It came in handy when I had some time sailing on the English Channel earlier this year!

On the way back a taxi driver tried it on saying that I'd given him the wrong money, I know I hadn't. The difference was 50p or so equivalent, so not the end of the world, but it was the principle of the thing (I'd even included a tip!)

The thing I hate about India is that it can sometimes seem that everyone sees you as an easy mark. I understand it, relatively speaking we're well off, but it's very tiresome. There was one cab driver who was up front about it, he asked for a higher price, and when I pointed out that he was overcharging he said 'yes, but I've given very good service!' We agreed with him, and he got his cash. I didn't mind that, I did mind when people were sneaky about it, trying to play us for fools.

I don't want to overplay that, though - that's a small part of this great country.

Boxing Day in India

See previous and next. Date: Boxing Day 2005 Place: Kolkata

For those people in countries which don't have boxing day, it's the 26th December.

After breakfast Monica went to the hotel gym, and I went out for a walk.

South Park St CemetaryI left the hotel and went along Camac St, turning right into Shakespeare Sarani. I passed Kala Mandir and made my way to the South Park St. Cemetary, I wasn't sure if I got to exactly the right place, but in any event it was a nearby cemertary. The place was overgrown and full of character. Walking through the cemetary, left over from the days of the British Raj (which was centred in Kolkata) I saw lots of people going about their business. Carts of masonry were being pushed around, there were people filming, and a whole bunch of friendly kids (not asking for money!) who I exchanged some Bengali/Bangla বাংলা with. I think they were amazed to find a european who even had a few words (and that's all I've got!)

The language skills on display were at the level of - "আমার নাম মারক" (Amar Nam Mark - my name is Mark). I also asked their names, and smiled a lot.

As I carried on, I met a family coming the othr way. They warned me not to go any further into the cemetary as it backed onto a slum area, and there were cases of people being robbed at the rear of the cemetary. I was about to turn around anyway, so I walked with them to the exit.

Victoria Memorial, KolkataWe went to the flat in the afternoon, and had a fish curry for lunch. In the evening we went out with Anupam and Barnali and ended up at the Victoria memorial. It looked nice afer dark, but we could not go in. Opposite the memorial in the park area were some fountains running through a light display. Our evening tea was from a cart, we ate something called Bhel Puri, I don't know what it actually was - but it was very nice. It seemed to be puffed rice with some stringy bits and a sauce.

We made our way next to a place called New Market. it's a leftover from the days of the Raj, and is quite mazelike. There are official porters, you tell them what you're after and they guide you through the maze. Before heading there, Anupam said we were to buy something for me. I was against getting something purely for the sake of it, but they could not be dissuaded, but I did agree to getting something distinctly Indian, and something I would use. I wasn't going to get a shirt that I could just as easily get in the UK.

New Market, KolkataWe got hold of some Darjeeling tea and a few other trinkets, and found a sweater for me, but could not get the size right. In one place an American gentleman had overheard us speaking and he came up to me to ask where I was from. When I said the UK his response was the 'he knew it was in that kind of area, but couldn't place if it was Sweden or Norway'. How sweet.

He announced that he was American. I replied that I knew - Americans were usually easy to spot. He found this amusing.

A Kolkata taxi jamAs this picture shows, traffic in Indian cities can be busy!

Christmas in Kolkata

See previous and next. Date: Christmas Day Place: Kolkata

Fast Food, Indian StyleWe spent Christmas day in Kolkata at a place called Nicco park, a little way out of town, past Science City. This is an amusement park, with lots of the usual sorts of rides, dodgems, a small roller coast, a water slide and so forth. It really is a place for the locals (not that Kolkata had masses of tourists to start with). I certainly was the only european I saw all day, and people kept waving at me. In Kolkata itself later in the week people kept coming up to me saying 'Nicco Park! Nicco Park!'

It didn't help that on the boating-dodgems (sort of rubber tyres with outboard motors), mine broke down, providing much amusement to the Bengali picnickers by the side of the lake - all I could do was smile and wave.

The fast food here was excellent, the guy made a curry straight on the hot plate, and it was delicious.

Anupam and I both went on the water slide, and arrived at the bottom dripping wet. No problem though, it was a warm day.

Christmas MealOur Christmas meal back at the flat was a chicken curry dish, and very nice it was too.

In the evening we gave out the gifts we had brought with us. We'd saved them as we were worried that they may be refused, and we wanted to be able to fall back on 'it's Christmas day' if we had to. In the evening we were to meet one of Monica's cousins at the hotel, so we rushed back. Whilst waiting (he never appeared) we had Terminator 3 on the TV, the Kumars at No. 42 and Desperate Housewives! An unexpected selection!

'Twas the Night Before Christmas

See previous and next. Date: Christmas Eve Place: Kolkata

Nativity Scene in IndiaSt. Paul's Cathedral in KolkataIt's been quite surreal, on TV there have been Bengali santas selling carpets, and outside St. Paul's Cathedral in Kolkata there is a nativity scene, but apart from this we've essentially escaped the whole Christmas shenanigans.

One of the main things today was a trip to Rash Behari, a nearby street where jewellery is sold. Monica's mum was set on buying us a ring each. This was non negotiable. Now, the Indian sensibility is more gold -> better. Unfortunately this meant that most of the rings were way too much for me, I felt like 'Del Boy' and I wouldn't have worn the ring. In the end I got a nice simple gold band. Monica got a nice piece too. Gold jewellery is sold simply by weight in India, and in several shops they had an electronic display showing the up to the minute price from the financial markets. Monica's mum was a bit disappointed that they didn't have more 'bling' - but we had to explain that if she wanted us to wear the rings then they couldn't be quite the style she would have chosen.

In the evening we went into Kolkata with Anupam and Barnali and saw St. Paul's Cathedral, we then went to the Birla Planetarium. This was an English Commentary, and was quite funny when the woman broke into 'Indian Masi' mode and scolded the audience saying 'I thought I told you to keep the children quiet!'

There are also commentaries in Hindi and Bengali, I'm not sure how Anupam and Barnali coped with the English commentary.

After the planetarium we were taken over the Hooghly Bridge (Vidyasaga Setu) and back. Anupam seemed set on stopping the taxi in the middle of the bridge. We thought this was bloody dangerous, no hard shoulder - and it's not the best place to photograph the bridge!

Back at the hotel it was difficult to sleep, there was a wedding going on downstairs and music was thumping up through the floors.

Kolkata

See previous and next. Date: 22nd December 2005 Moving to Kolkata

On Wednesday 21st we moved on from Agra and it was time to brave the Indian Railways to Kolkata. The Rajdhani express doesn't stop in Agra, and so it was necessary to take the train to Kanpur. Late morning we travelled to Agra Cantt (Cantonment), and passed a school 'bus'. This was around 10-12 girls, all in school uniform crammed onto one cycle rickshaw - it was an impressive piece of packing!

Kids at Agra StationWe had a bit of a wait at Agra, lots of hassle from people wanting to clean my shoes (I was not wearing leather), and from street kids. I did weaken and gave some cash to some streetkids in exchange for a photo. This is against advice, but it's very difficult when they're right in front of you.

Then someone official looking offered to help us to our carriage. We declined, as we were quite capable of reading the ticket, but he insisted despite our protests. As we arrived he demanded 100Rs for his trouble! Okay, so it's not much, but as we didn't want his help....

Taken on a moving train....Indian trains can be excellent, and at the same time quite stressful. As a white european I was being constantly hassled to buy something, and this gets tiresome. For the train to Kanpur we had a compartment in a second class carriage. These carriages are open to all, and at each stop people looked in, and then the hard sell began. This train would have ended up in Kolkata, but it would have taken 36 hours, and I would not have slept well - or at all.

We were due in Kanpur at around 6:30pm, but didn't get in until 8pm. In the next compartment there was an american couple, also going to Kolkata. The guy was called Caleb and I can't recall the woman's name. They planned on staying on the train, but changed their plans when we said we were transferring to the fast train. We had a wait of 1hr 50 minutes at Kanpur, unfortunately they didn't spend any of this time making sure their ticket was adequate, and so the last time we saw them they were arguing with the guard - I hope they weren't stranded!

On the Rajdhani ExpressUp until this point, the experience wasn't too good. We were being continually hassled, and didn't feel at all secure. The Rajdhani express was something else, and is to be recommended. First Class AC is expensive by Indian Standards, but works out to be equivalent to a modest railway journey in the UK. The carriages are secured, so one can relax. Linen and an evening meal is provided, as is morning breakfast and a newspaper.

At Kolkata we were met at Howrah station by some of Monica's family, Anupam and Barnali. They took us to our hotel (reasonably priced by UK standards, but we did get a good rate on it which brought the price down, it was incredibly extravagent by Indian standards, a bit posh by ours, we took the hotel on the advice of another of Monica's family). This hotel was the biggest expense in the whole trip. After refreshing ourselves, we got into a Taxi and went to see Monica's mother, she lives in an area called Kasba.

Driving in Delhi was scary, but driving in Kolkata left that in the shade. Kolkata driving is akin to stock car racing. In Delhi, there is a weight of traffic and slower moving vehicles which keeps the speed down - not so much in Kolkata. It's like Delhi driving but fast. Nobody indicates in India, the rule of the road seems to be that as you pass someone you sound your horn, therefore, if there is no horn being sounded it is safe to pull out. Several times in Kolkata we were on the edge of our seats with nervousness. Couples with this is the fact that in many taxis I simply was too tall, having to bend by neck just to fit. We were in Kolkata for 10 days and got used to the traffic, and by the time we returned to Delhi, the driving there seemed tame.

We spent the 22nd and 23rd december in the flat, we'd begin to venture out on Christmas Eve.

Taj Mahal

See previous and next. Date: Tuesday 20th December 2005 Place: Agra

We had a bit of a late start, I was feeling better but Monica was not. We didn't set out until early afternoon, but we got to see the Taj Mahal, and it is truly one of the wonders of the world.

Gateway to the Taj MahalThe gateway alone is worth seeing in it's own right, but it pails next to the Taj.

One parks some distance from the Taj Mahal and there is an electrical bus to take tourists the final stretch. This is an anti pollution measure, of course, there are lots of people offering to act as guides. Our guide was pretty good, but in hindsight we should have said goodbye at the Taj, as this would have freed us to explore alone, and still allowed him to look for the next punters - we didn't need him to take us back.

The Taj Mahal was built as a memorial for the favourite Maharani of the Maharaja of Agra, a monument to his love. The building is perfectly symmetrical, with a mosque on one side, and, to keep the balance, a whole seperate building on the other. This building can't be used as a mosque as it's facing the wrong way.

The Taj MahalThe Taj Mahal is finished in white marble, and at the top is a massive single stone lotus flower. To get it up there they made an earth ramp some 2km long, and hauled it up there with elephants. This represents a phenomenal amount of manpower.

On the far bank of the river we could see the foundations for what would have been the black Taj, this would have made a fourfold symmetry - the black Taj would have been the tomb for the Maharaja himself. It would have been black as he wanted to be in her shadow. Unfortunately, his son had seized power and the political situation was such that the Maharaja spent his dying days in Agra Fort, within site of his love at the Taj Mahal.

If you plan to visit the Taj Mahal, it should be noted that foreigners pay more than locals. Personally I have no problem with this given the differences in the average wage. Also, you will need to travel light. You are only allowed to take in a limited number of items. We took a camera and water.

Diwan-i-Am at Agra FortTakht-i-Jahangir (Throne of Jahangir) at Agra FortFrom the Taj Mahal we went over to Agra Fort, this is a huge complex and only part of it is accessible to the public. There's a huge throne there, and one can see the rooms where the old Maharaja spent his last days.

At the fort there was a rope which went to street level, if any of the commoners wished they could seek an audience with the Maharaja by pulling on the rope which rang a bell to alert him. Somehow I can't imagine that working today!

Oddly, moving around the fort there were several people who asked if they could have their photos taken with Monica - this was just weird.

Monica was pretty beat by the time we got back to the hotel, we ended up watching Star TV, a submarine film called 'Below', and 'True Lies'. I made Monica eat something and she opted for the 'blandest thing on the menu', fish and chips.

It was a little worrying that she wasn't too well - we had a long train journey to face the next day. We would be off to Kolkata (Calcutta)

Agra

See previous and next. Date: 19th December 2005 Starting in Jaipur, ending to Agra

Horn PleaseSnake BirdOur next journey in India was the road from Jaipur to Agra, we went to a wetland known as the Keoladeo Ghana National Park. This area was created during the British Raj era, and is a large wetland. There are understandable pressures upon it from local farmers - it represents a large store of water. However, it does bring in tourism. Keoladeo is near a town called Bharatpur.

The area was made as a hunting reserve, and though there are no longer any tiger, there are jackals and bison. In the park there is a big sign detailing the hunting expeditions. The guides can vary in quality, but our guide really knew his stuff, and took real pleasure in the wildlife.

This is my favourite Chipmunk ShotIn the park is a small tearoom serving the ubiquitous masala tea, and the wildlife there was pretty bold, looking for any small crumb dropped by the food. Our guide took us from here to a place he knew there'd likely be a boa constrictor. We found the snake, and it was a pretty impressive animal, but unfortunately for the animal it had been injured, there was a puncture wound and it had started to be attacked by ants. According to our guide when this happens the ants get into the wound and start to eat the snake - not a good way to go.

From Keoladeo it was into Agra. Both Delhi and Jaipur had much to recommend them, but I didn't take a shine to Agra. If it didn't have the Taj Mahal I wouldn't have wanted to stay there for any time, I certainly wouldn't want to spend much longer there than we had to.

The pollution in Agra is quite ovewhelming, and I found it to be much more invasive than Delhi (and that's saying something!).

Dancing BearI took a dislike to Agra from the Uttar Pradesh border, at the border tour guides have to stop to present credentials (each state in India has its own regime of taxes and fees). When we were there a guy came up with his Dancing Bear. The car in front gave them some cash - I gave him a look that could kill, and he didn't even think of performing for us.

We arrived at the ManSingh Palace hotel in Agra. The hotel looked good, but they didn't impress. The check-in took forever, and we took our own bags to our room, getting within a few feet before a bell-hop appeared, sorry, but no thanks.

In the evening we felt a bit rough. For our first time in India we had a bit of diarrhea, a loss of appetite. It was a bit of a concern for the next day, we only had one day in Agra, and that was our one chance to see the Taj Mahal.

Exploring Jaipur

See previous and next. Date: Sunday 18th December, 2005 Starting: Jaipur

We had a good breakfast in Jaipur, and paid our bill of 600Rs (which covered two full meals and breakfast). This is about 8 quid.

A view to the Maharaja's QuartersWe went to the City Palace Complex in Jaipur first, this is a huge palace complex where the Maharaja and his family still live. India used to be a large collection of individual kingdoms, and at Independence the way that they got the kingdoms to join India was to allow the Maharajas to keep some perks and privileges. These were removed by Indira Ghandi in the 70s, but some families were independently wealthy enough not to need Government support.

The Pink City of Jaipur was once a yellow city, but was painted pink as a welcome to the Prince of Wales in 1876.

Mubarak Mahal

As we entered the City Palace, we were greeted by the Mubarak Mahal, or Welcome Palace. This was built as a guest house for visiting dignitaries. Today it's a museum. The guards there will offer to pose for photographs, and then cheekily ask for a donation (but it's not much - and they were very nice, giving us Masala tea).

There are shops in the square surrounding the Mubarak Mahal, they do try it on a little bit, and overcharge mightily for westerners.

One of the Silver Flasks used to Carry Ganges Water to England

In an adjoining courtyard is a building which houses two large silver flasks. These were made for a visit to London by the Maharaja to carry holy water from the Ganges. They're guarded, of course.

A small and easily overlooked passageway leads to the Chadra Mahal courtyard, providing a good view of the main residence of the Maharaja's family.


Detail in the Peacock Gate

The Maharaja's quarters

The doorways are ornately decorated, with the surrounding arches handpainted with intricate designs.

We stopped in the palace café, which was reasonably priced, but expensive by local standards.

On the far side of the palace café was a snake charmer with a Cobra. He was encouraging people to stroke the hood of the Cobra - I wasn't happy about it, but Monica obliged.


Cenotaph in JaipurCenotaph in Jaipur

When we got back to the car, our driver, Mr. Sharma had acquired a friend named Pradeep, who was in training to be a guide. Mr. Sharma was Pradeep's uncle. We were a little wary, but went along with it, and are glad to have done so. Pradeep took us to a memorial off the Amber Road. This memorial is a bit off the beaten track, but very impressive indeed. The city walls which snake up to the Amber Palace come down the hillside at this point . The memorial is apparently the cenotaphs to the Maharinis of Jaipur, and Pradeep said something about Madho Singh II.

From here we went up to Jaigarh, the Amber Fort. Here we found the Jaya Vana, which was the biggest cannon in the world when it was cast, with a range of some 22 miles. Below the cannon is a pond (and a long drop), so that after lighting the fuse the men can jump to safety.

Next was a visit to Amber, and a place called the Rajasthan Small Scale Cottage Industries. These are run by the Rajasthan state as an outlet for local products (no doubt giving a cut to guides who bring tourists). We were given the hard sell, which I find really annoying, and it makes me less likely to buy. Monica spent time looking at dresses and saris, and I got a headache. Essentially you sit on benches in front of a mattress, and there is a guy who lays everything out for you. Only once in India did I find a man who recognised this, he said to me 'you're British? I'll let you look yourself, the British like to browse, the Americans like to be sold to... I understand.'


Large Sundial and a view of the Janter ManterOur next visit was very close to the city palace complex, the Janter Manter. For me this was the highlight of Jaipur. The Janter Manter is a collection of odd looking sculptures (to the untrained eye), in reality they're a wonderful collection of astronomical instruments, including a sundial with 20 second accuracy (note, this is local time, for Indian Standard a correction must be made).

There are all sorts of devices at the Janter Manter (which means calculating machine, and actually refers to a pair of discs which hang like gongs).

We had another visit to a textiles place which was close to the Janter Manter and then we were ready to go to the hotel. After a respite during the visit the the Janter Manter (it was great!) my headache had returned. For reasons to do with room availability we had to change hotels, we had dropped off our bags in the new hotel that morning, thus we were returning to the Shahpura hotel.


The Shahpura Hotel, JaipurThe decorator at the Shahpura hotel in Jaipur

This hotel is in Devi Marg, and is full of marble and incense. The walls are handpainted, with a tiny brush, and we saw the decorator whilst we were there. This is detailed and time consuming work.

We were on the first floor, room 112, and the music from the dining room filtered upstairs to us. Including Frere Jacques on the sitar. This was all very nice, except that due to the limited repertoire we had Frere Jacques repeated several times.

We went down to the handpainted dining room for our evening meal. Monica had Yakhani Mutton, Palak paneer, and Veg Pulao. The mutton came with a lime/honey sauce and Palak paneer is paneer in a dark green sauce. The Dining Room of the Shahpura hotel in Jaipur I had Rajasthani Sula, which I really liked. I had this with butter naan and stuffed paratha. The sula was lamb which had been marinated in spices and cooked on charcoal.

For desert we had halwa, which is made with semolina and carrot. I don't normally like semolina, and so it was a lovely surprise that I really enjoyed this. It had a lovely colour to it, and the consistency of grated coconut.

Eve Teasing

When Monica and I were in India (I really must complete my posts for that trip) we kept reading in various newspapers, such as 'The Times of India' about 'Eve Teasing'. We could understand from context what the word meant, but it perplexed us.

A little research provided us with an answer.

Essentially it refers to harrassment of women. Literally 'Teasing Eve'.

In a related story whilst we were there, there was a story which caught our eye where police raided a park in Meerut and started to beat couples (or usually the women) for public displays of 'obscenity', some were married couples - and some brother and sister who were out for a walk. I seem to remember the word 'eve teasing', used here - so the word may have other connotations. The event did provoke some scandal and the police officers involved were suspended.

The pills stop today

Anti MalarialToday is the last day that I have to take Anti Malarial pills. Thank goodness.

They taste of swimming pool if they're not swallowed down quickly enough - when I first started taking them I got killer headaches on wednesdays (the day for Chloroquine, the weekly tablet). Now, I'm tolerating them - but could it be that I've got used to their effects?

Will I feel miraculously on top form in a day or two?

Jaipur

See previous and next. Date: 17th December 2005 Starting: Delhi

We were up early, and hot water was a problem. There was a distinct lack thereof.

Or rather, there was hot water, but no water pressure. Some patience and a bucket resolved this problem.

Breakfast was taken at the hotel, it was a little disappointing truth be told, rather bland. We met up with the driver at around half past seven. His name was Mr. Sharma and he would be with us for four days. He spoke English, but was not fluent - and we had no Hindi. Fortunately he did speak বাংলা (Bangla/Bengali) and so Monica could drop into Bengali if needed - my Bengali is minimal (though more than most Brits, I suspect)

Getting out of Delhi was a little bit of a black art, signposts were few and far between - I think we went out past the airport. Along the road were exhortations that 'Lane Driving is Safe Driving'. These signs were often ignored.

At about 9:45pm we stopped at a roadside café´ thing, which was essentially an open kitchen in a barn like structure. We had Masala tea and Aloo Paratha each - it was truly excellent. The bill came to 30Rs or about 40pence. The Aloo Paratha were flat, with finely chopped vegetables. Beautiful - I had other Paratha since then in India, these ones were my favourite.

The Highway to Jaipur could be alarming. We were travelling at times on dual carriageway, which occasionally had contraflows. In the UK when there are roadworks requiring a contraflow, the two lanes of traffic are kept seperated by cones. Here, cones directed the traffic through the gaps in the barrier and across the central reservation - then they vanished. As a passenger one would look up to see traffic coming toward you on the wrong side of the road and in the same lane as you. In both directions (on a two lane carriageway) both directions of traffic would be over, and undertaking. Sometimes both - and sometimes both flows at once!

Driving in IndiaThere were some crazy situations on the roads, we saw several vehicles with people travelling on the outside of the vehicle (i.e a full jeep stuffed so full of people that one man had to travel by standing on the running board. He had his head poking through the passenger's window so that he could maintain a conversation).

I quite enjoyed seeing all the camel drawn carts that people used.

Camel drawn Cart

About 12km before Jaipur is the Amber Palace. This is the start of a phenomenal series of structures around Jaipur. The setting for the Palace is lovely (though the road to it passes through quite a poor area). The sheer engineering feat it represents is incredible.

Looking out from The Amber PalaceThe palace sits underneath Jaigarhm the Amber Fort - and looking out from the palace there is a wall that snakes away along the hilltops. It's rather reminiscent of how I imagine the Great Wall of China.

The courtyard of the palace is free, but to enter the main area a ticket is needed, this is 50Rs, or 75Rs if you take a camera. It's not worth trying to play the system and hide the camera, 25Rs is not really worth the effort, and it pays for the upkeep of the place.

The palace is worth exploring, every time one turns a corner there seems to be something new.

These are the quarters of the Maharaja's favourite MaharaniAfter leaving there, we went up to the Tiger Fort, this was a palace that the Maharaja of Jaipur built for his Maharanis. The guide there was excellent - and he took lots of photographs for us (indeed, he insisted upon doing so). The Tiger Fort, or Nahargarh, commands views over Jaipur.

When we returned to the car, Mr. Sharma was taking a nap and we did not want to disturb him, so we ent to the café next to the fort. We shared vegetable cutlets and vegetable pakora. We both had a sweet lassi.

Jal MahalAs we drove into Jaipur we passed the achingly beautiful Jal Mahal, or Water Palace. This was apparently used in two Bond films.

In the evening we stayed at a small family run hotel, the Dera Rawatsar. This is located on Vijay path near the Sindhi Camp bus station at Bani Park. It's a family home that has been converted to a hotel, there are only a few rooms, and it's very nice. The doors to the room folded open to a small courtyard area. The bathroom was set up as a 'wet room', and had a good supply of hot water.

The TV in the room (as with all the other hotels we stayed in) had a good range of channels, mostly Hindi, there were some English language channels which were watchable - whilst in the rooms in India we saw everything from the A team to the Kumars at Number 42, to Robocop! Later on in the trip we had to spend some time in the room, not just yet, though!

The evening meal was a buffet, and was quite good - the highspot was the Indian Sweets to finish (this is not to every westerner's taste - I like the firmer sweets)

As the booking was made rather late, we only had this hotel for one night - the next day we would move hotels. This was fine by us, a change is as good as a rest (and other such inanities!)

Experiencing Delhi for the First Time

See previous and next. Date: 16th December 2005 Where: Delhi

Arriving in Delhi we came out of the airport to be faced with all sorts of taxi touts, and people asking for money. There were going to be unlucky as we did not yet have any Rupees (the Rupee is a closed currency, one needs to obtain them 'in country', strictly speaking taking them through customs can result in your cash being confiscated).

We walked out to the car through a long tunnel from the airport, at the end of which was a cow walking on the pavement. This would be the first of many.

The car itself had a flat tyre and so we had to wait for the tyre to be changed - which prompted lots of kids to offer to clean my shoes and so forth. Nobody really bothered Monica as she doesn't look out of place (unless she speaks) - I was the obvious tourist. As a westerner one must be aware that people living on the breadline will try and take advantage, and you will be overcharged, but even then the prices are often lower than what you might pay at home. I'll talk more on this as these reports progress.

We stayed at the excellent Hotel Ajanta in Old Delhi. The rooms are pretty basic, but perfectly adequate, good value - and the staff are excellent. We booked this from the UK via something like ebookers.

Delhi is a large connurbationm and is divided into Old Delhi (the organically grown bit), New Delhi (the planned bit) and then the various suburbs that it has swallowed.

When we arrived we were taken into a side room, and three people offered us tea within the space of two minutes (we took Masala tea).

Driving in Delhi is something of a combat sport to western eyes. Lanes are there for guidance only, and the horn is a vital tool in the driving. It seems to be the done thing that instead of a driving looking to see if it is safe to pull out and then indicating before making the manouverm the done thing is to check that nobody has sounded their horn just behind you, and pull out - being ready to swerve back if a horn starts to sound.

Without the horn on the car, you will probably crash!

Rush hour in DelhiThere are quite a lot of people on cycles and bikes, though cars (with dents) and autorickshaws tend to predominate. Many vehicles (especially buses and lorries) have a painted notice on the back reminding passing drivers to sound their horn. As a result, horns are sounded every time once vehicle passes another - it is a cacophony, and quite scary - although one does get used to it when one realises that the basic assumptions used on the road in Europe are just different.

To the newly arrived tourist, it put me somewhat in mind of a motorised Ben Hur.

The hotel is located in a pretty small street, and it felt quite intimidating to the new arrival, it was actually not a problem at all - and it was a pretty good location (we stayed there on our return from Kolkata and walked there from the train station). The only real issue was that it wasn't a quiet location due to the car horns (but it was quiet enough to sleep, and that is what counts).

In the Hotel Ajanta they have a good travel agency, and the woman there expressed surprise that we were to stay three nights in Delhi and not visit Rajasthan - we had planned to go to Kolkata via Agra. We took her advice and rearranged some things, and what good advice that was. We were to get up the next day and drive to Jaipur, spending two nights there. We would then drive to Agra via Bharatpur where there is Keoladeo National Park. We would cash in the two nights in Delhi and these would go toward the Jaipur accomodation (we would keep the Agra accomodation). We would need to pay for the car (which came with a driver who would be out our disposal and take us around the cities) and for the driver's accomodation. He would be staying in the same hotel as us and would be with us for four days. The whole lot was some 180 quid - an absolute bargain. Indeed, if we were repeating the trip I would ask Hotel Ajanta to book everything locally for us.

As a result we were to leave Delhi the next day, and so wanted to see a little of the place before we did, the hotel arranged for us to have a driver to take us around Old Delhi for the rest of the day. The cost was around 350Rs, or about a fiver. In this trip we did not see all of Delhi, but that's fine - it leaves some for next time. We decided to go for throughness on this trip rather than trying to squeeze everything in. After all, we're likely to be going back.

The first trip in Delhi was down the road to the railway station (though mistakenly he took us to the local ticket office rather than to the International Reservations office which is on the first floor in the building with the big autorickshaw rank outside). We had to confirm our connections for Kolkata. The fact that he had taken us too far gave us our first taste of pedestrian life in Delhi. As a foreign tourist the trick is to keep moving unless you really want to be sold to!

The Red FortWe drove to the Red Fort after that. It was too late to go in, but we had a look at the structure - an impressive building. There were some guys at the Red Fort who offered to take us around on Cycle Rickshaws, which we did. The car parked and waited for us whilst we went into the smaller roads of Old Delhi.

Jama Masjid in DelhiWe went up to Jama Masjid, though we could not look around as the Call to Prayer had just gone out. It's an inspiring structure, which is, I suppose, one of the main points to any religious building. Cheekily, the rickshaw guys stopped at 'a shop which they had an interest in', in other words, they get a commission every time they show up with a gullible tourist. The place sold fabrics and small nicknacks. We soon moved on, going up a small road toward Chadni Chowk, a main shopping street.

On the way to Chadni ChowkAfter going west on Chadni Chowk a little, past a Sikh temple, we turned around and went back to the Red Fort, where we took a few photos.

When we got back to the car we found a couple of policemen - they demanded 20Rs as the car was not legally parked (it was). We failed to see how this was our problem, we didn't park it - and we knew we were being taken, however we did pay up, for the sake of 30p it was worth it for a quiet life. I wish we'd have had the presence of mind to take their numbers, but we were newly arrived in the country and it was rather daunting. Even though it was only 30p it did leave a sour taste in the mouth (moreso than the pollution!)

It had been a long day for us - we had not slept properly since leaving home, and so we decided to head back for the hotel. We had some fun and games as plug sockets in India are best described as 'variable', in different cities they are shaped differently. Our travel plug did not fit. Fortunately the hotel could direct us to a small shop a few hundred yards from the hotel down Arakashan Road and then just on the left in Qutb road. On the way back we bought a few supplies (like Shampoo) in a place on the Arakashan Road. Hotel Ajanta is comfortable, but no frills).

That evening we ate on the rooftop restaurant at the hotel, there was a buffet which cost 150Rs a head (about 2 quid). The spicy tomato soup alone was worth the price. The views weren't great, partially due to the fog, partially due to the location, also as it was nighttime - but it was pleasant.

It was rather cold and so we went down to the indoor restaurant to take some tea before turning in, and we had no problem sleeping. It was 11:45pm when we went to sleep. We were out like lights. We would have to be up early the next day, as with our newly formed plans we were off to Jaipur!

A Passage to India

See next article (Sorry for the obvious title!)

Date: Thursday 15th Dec - Friday 16th Dec 2005

On the 15th December, we headed off to Heathrow in order to catch BA 142 to India. Delhi to be precise. Our flight wasn't until reasonably late in the day so we leaving home in the early afternoon left plenty of time so that we would not have to rush. How wrong we were.

Understand this, from where we live, Heathrow is maybe 30 minutes by car - if one doesn't hit traffic. We also live near a train line. We opted to take the train, changing to the air-link coach at Woking for the final leg to Heathrow. This in and of itself is amazing, why is Heathrow not a train terminus in it's own right? Yes, there are connections into London - but not everyone lives there! Heathrow should have direct connections north, south, and west - it should be easy to go there direct. This might just reduce some M25 traffic. One can get a train from Gatwick to Reading, but the line stops there... they did not extend it all the way.

Inevitably, the coach was late. It then took an hour to get out of Woking. We needed Terminal 4, and the driver told us it'd be quicker to get off at Terminal 1 and take the interconnecting train link (which is part of the London Underground network - connections to London are good). Of coursem being Heathrow this meant loads of walking to find the connections, but at least we were no longer subject to the vagaries of London orbital traffic.

We arrived with plenty of time to spare. Unfortunately the check in queue was two and a half hours long. We finally got allocated our seats at 8pm - the gates closed at 8:20pm. The signs said that the gate was a 15 minute walk.

All in all, from when we left home to check in would usually take about 2-3 hours ended up taking 6. Including a couple of hours in Woking. It really brought home the fragility of the London transport system. Crossrail in London for the Olympics? That is important (and not for the Olympics), but what we really need in this area are trains which connect around the capital (most obviously) Heathrow should connect directly to Gatwick, and ideally should have a major train terminal to connect to the rest of the country.

View over AfghanistanThe staff on the plane were pretty good, and we flew out over the Netherlands, north of the Black seam past Dnepropetrousk (so the map told me) and Afghanistan (going near Kabul). From the air Afghanistan looked absolutely beautiful, there were hundreds and hundreds of little walled compounds in the hills - the terrain undulating beneath us with the Himalaya in the distance.

We flew into Delhi, and as we landed the pollution was thick outside the window. New Delhi is fog prone at this time of year, and the pollutants turn this to smog. One never quite got used to this, but it did vary from day to day - and was not too much of a problem. Overall, New Delhi wasn't that bad when we were there (though when we were in Kolkata the Delhi smog got so bad they had to close the airport some days). The worst pollution we had was when we arrived in Agra, we got to the city and it attacks the back of the throat. Again, it seemed to clear the next day when we did the bulk of our sightseeing.

I am now, officially, a 'Person of Indian Origin'.Arriving in Delhi was a breeze for us, though as we waited in the airport the pollution was noticeable and unpleasant. There was a long and snaking line for passport checks - but we went straight to the short queue for 'Diplomats and PIO card holders'. Lovely.

We had arranged with the Hotel for someone to pick us up at the airport, and they were good to their word.

We had arrived in India.

(More to follow)