After a relaxing night listening to random MP3s and deciding on concrete details for our tour itinerary, we crashed out. My left ear is actually a little swollen and painful and I think it’s due to overuse of the earplugs I’ve been clagging in each night. I gave them a miss, and instead was regaled by Hans’ snoring at umpteen occasions overnight. I resorted to the age old method of sticking my leg out and lifting up his mattress so he’d roll over. At least my ear didn’t hurt.
Come daybreak and we packed up, had breakfast and talked to the really nice guy who runs the hotel. It seems he’s rather taken by a young girl who lives in Canada and he’s saving up so he can go over there for a few months and see how things work out. I hope he has better luck with women than me. Nice guy.
At around 10:00, we bundled our kit (which now contained a few more books than it had when we arrived in Pushkar – damn cheap book shops) into the car and set off on the road to Jaipur, the capital of Rajisthan.
The journey is roughly four hours by coach, according to Lonely Planet, so we reckoned on three by car. Despite the distance, the time is reduced by one of the best roads in the region. A nice 6-lane highway with very good paving. The thing is, despite a whacking big central reservation, arrows on the road telling you which way you’re supposed to go and a constant stream of traffic in both directions we still had a “we’re going to die” moment, when the truck in front of us swerved from the fast to the middle lane, revealing two 10-ton lorries barrelling towards us at 50kph.
I gawped at the trucks. I gawped at Hans. Hans gawped at me. We both gawped back at the trucks which were now significantly larger and – more worryingly – closer. Our driver drifted left and let them pass to continue their death-defying cruise down the wrong side of a major thoroughfare. Then he just shrugged and said “this is India”.
Actually, he couldn’t have put it better. It’s the best excuse for everything. I remember in Nigeria my first encounter with the car horn as a signalling device used to frequently, one could mistake it for an automotive sonar system. In Vietnam, the noise was similar but more high-pitched due to the multitude of rickety mopeds on the roads and the sparcity of cars.
In India, there’s a mix of all types of traffic. All of it, though, uses horns. Even when barrelling along a motorway at 100kph:
Toot – I’m to your rear right and want past.
Meeeeeeeeeeeeep – I’m overtaking you, kindly don’t swerve into me.
Beep beep beep beep beep beep beep beep beep – No, sir, I believe I have right of way.
Beep beep beep-beep-beep beep-beep-beep beeeeeep beep-boop – I spent 20,000Rp on a musical horn for my truck and should really get out more.
And on it goes.
Then three’s road markings. Trust me, over here they’re purely for decoration. Mirrors? Women use them for putting makeup on. Don’t think for a second the ones in cars have any other use. In fact, good luck spotting a wing mirror that’s not tucked in against the window so the car can get through an even tinier gap than you’d believe.
Things didn’t stop being interesting there. Oh, no. We stopped for fuel and munchies. This isn’t as simple as it sounds as petrol stations in India sell petrol. And diesel and maybe autogas. Most of them also sell oil. That’s it. No shrink-wrapped sandwiches, chocolate bars, over-priced bottles of Gatorade or dangly air fresheners. Just petroleum products. They are also among the cleanest business establishments you will see in this country, despite selling probably the muckiest product. Go figure.
Anyway, the place we stopped at had a cafeteria/shop just next door so while our driver filled up, we pootled over and grabbed ourselves some (overpriced, naturally) junk food. Once more we took our seats and off we set, Jaipur-wards.
For about three kilometres. At which point the rear left tyre started making flapflapflapflapflap sounds so we pulled over. Flat as.
Fortunately, we had a spare and within fifteen minutes we were on our way. A motorway patrol even stopped and dropped some cones around us. All very civilised. Still, a bit of bad luck so I guess that was Hans’ fault for annoying the priest yesterday.
Fifteen minutes further down the road and the front right tyre started making flapflapflapflapflap sounds. What are the odds…? I guess that was my fault for annoying the other Brahman.
Needless to say we didn’t have another spare – it’s only a dinky car – so our driver set off with the flat after asking a passing pedestrian (yes, on the motorway) which direction the nearest tyre repair place was.
Hans and I wolfed our way through the crisps we’d bought earlier and dodged trucks while we awaited his return. A couple of people did stop to see if we’d run out of fuel, and I’m sure were even offering to drive the wrong way down the motorway to the filling station to pick us up a canister of diesel until we pointed out that one of our wheels was missing. Very kind of them nontheless.
About 45 minutes and 50 pages of my novel later, our saviour returned with a freshly-inflated tyre. In short order we were on our way once more. I don’t think we could have crossed any more fingers unless we were double-jointed.
We made it to Jaipur with no further incident and arrived at the hotel our driver wanted to take us to. It’s become a little bit of a mystery why we go to these places, as quite often he doesn’t know where they are. We can only assume the agency we booked through tells him to use them. Up till now, they’ve been fine, but the first choice today was… well. It was crap.
The first thing we asked when we walked in was “how much?” After staring at Hans for maybe 10 seconds, the aging doorman said “1800 Rupees”. This was ridiculous, but we decided to humour him and went to see the room which was filthy. Again we asked how much. “990 Rupees… how much you pay?”
OK, so we’ve gone from 1800 to 990 and then straight to “how much do you want to pay”? And the room’s awful. And the location’s dreadful.
Over the way was a guest house which was marginally better, a lot cheaper, but still in a poor location as well as being pretty empty.
We decided to try again for one of the places recommended by the girls we met in Delhi – the Atithi Guest House. Our quest began.
Half an hour later we were sat outside the Atithi Palace Hotel. Close, but no cigar. It seems we were close to where we needed to be, but a combination of Lonely Planet’s awful map and a one-way system that Leeds itself would have been proud of was foiling our mission.
We persisted. So did our driver, bless him. A mere twenty minutes later we found the Atithi Guest House and within a minute of walking in had decided it was far, far better than the two places we’d rejected. Clean, bright, friendly staff, very new-looking internet PCs, soft(ish) mattresses, a nice rooftop terrace and some pretty girls in room 203. Bonus. 600Rp a night was more than we’d hoped, but what the hell. It was nice accomodation.
Relieving our driver of duty, we went for a scout around. Flight tickets to Sri Lanka were purchased, my bank account wept, and we located a Pizza Hut for dinner. Hans’ “masala lemonade” turned out to be just that – lemonade with curry powder in. Thankfully his chicken chutneywallah pizza was somewhat better. I stuck with Pepsi and a spicy chicken pizza. Nice and filling.
After picking up some snacks for a very reasonable price, we headed back to the hotel. Hot water is only available from 7:30am-11:30am and 7:30pm-11:30pm so we jumped in the shower one after the other and freshened up for the first time in far too long. Between that shower and shaving, I think I’ve lost about half a stone. I feel like a new mand and I could probably build one from all the dead skin cells that sloughed off me.
Some hefty internet time followed where I managed to get my laptop online for the first time in a while, only for the new versions of Blogger and Picasa to conspire against me and prevent me uploading photos to my blog for no apparent reason. It tries… for ages… and then doesn’t do anything. Posts lost in the ether and I have no idea if the pics have been uploaded or not. It looks like you’ll have to wait till I get them up on Fotopic – sorry for that.
And then to bed and my book, which I’m racing through. I may hate cheap bookshops for the extra load they put on my spinal column and the dent they inflict on my wallet – but another Lee Child book to wade through is always welcome. I managed to find two in Pushkar. And the latest Terry Pratchett paperback. Plenty to get through between temples, monuments, encounters with deadly truck drivers and dealing with miserable hotel staff.
Hey, we’ll even have clean laundry in the morning. Things are looking up. I should insult holy men more often.