Ladies & Gents,
It really happened — I’m in India.
I lucked out in the airport customs line and met a very courteous Catalonian by the name of Ignasi, who not only split a cab with me from the airport, but befriended me over dinner and became my new travelling companion for the next few days as we both settled in to this new country. Is it strange that this made me feel, in a way, as though I were cheating on Sam? I told Ignasi that I only had room in my life for one true fake husband, and that he would have to settle for the eternal position of second fiddle, which he graciously accepted.
Anyway! Delhi was, as you can no doubt imagine, a hot mess of a city and an absolutely mad way of introducing oneself to a country. People, you’ve read Mistry so I know you already know the drill: cows wandering through the streets, garbage galore, impromptu fire pits, stalls piled to the sky with indigo grapes and papayas shaved into stars, sizzling chapatis, steaming chai, gorgeous fabrics, womens’ hands laced with henna, and the endless, endless, from dawn to dusk endless cries of Where are you from? and You come looking my shop please.
Thence to Agra on a train appropriately named the Taj Express. We met two lovely Australian girls, Sophie and Yvette, and spent the whole day sightseeing with them. Being an architect’s daughter, I think I was a little more interested in the buildings than they were (Just one more photo!) but everyone forgave me at the Taj because, c’mon, we are talking about the TAJ MAHAL here, IN REAL LIFE. Amazing.
But the realities of travelling here are that things here can be a little . . . trying. Dear film adaptation of Eat, Pray, Love playing on the plane: I can’t help but notice that you did not really mention this. Also, Julia Roberts looks so clean and well-showered! I’ve worn the exact same clothes without washing them for ten days now. And counting. So what do you do if you sense an early burnout in the works? Head to a national park, of course.
I dragged Igansi to this nowhere town called Baharatpur (to catch the bus here, by the way, one flags down a local bus from the middle of the highway and shouts one’s destination at the driver as the bus slows-down-but-not-quite-stops and one hops on, giant backpack thumping all the innocent bystanders in the immediate vicinity), wherein resides the Keoladeo Ghana bird reserve. Just the two of us on rented bicycles, an extremely lovely guide named Babulal, and a silent wetland of winged wonders.
Needless to say, a five-year-old point-and-shoot camera is pretty much the least desirable device to take on a birdwatching expedition, so no great photos to speak of; however, ornithologists, you can read ’em and weep: painted storks, grey herons, pintailed ducks, white-breasted kingfishers, purple moorhens, bar-headed geese, common teal ducks, black-headed ibises, three snoozing spotted owlets (adorable), a brown-headed barbet, a horde of rose-ringed parakeets, yellow-footed green pigeons, one lovely tigerbird, grey hornbills, little cormorants, paddy birds, the Indian darter, several Indian moorhens, one dazzling purple sunbird, greyheaded flycatchers, a collared scops owl, red binded bulbuls, treefuls of peacocks, a black-winged kite, red bottled lapwings, combducks, waterhens, camera-shy oriental magpie robins, and several spoonbills.
(For anyone who bothered to read all that who was not Sky, Al, Chris, Anne, or Dan, I apologize.)
And on to Jaipur, capital of Rajasthan! City of infinite forts and a wonderfully deteriorating old quarter (called the Pink City), where I learned once and for all that organized tours are exhausting affairs and needed several cups of chai to recover. But it is rather glorious here, no?
And that’s all for now, folks. I’m alive and back to eating street food (gourmandise details in a later post, promise). The very lovely Ignasi and I have sadly parted ways (Varanasi beckoned), but I’m armed with a wedding band, years of lying experience, and some local clothes that are gorgeous and look absolutely ridiculous on me. I promise to keep better in touch if you promise to do the same — missing you all very much.
From Jaipur with love,