Monday, 30 December 2013

Popping to the south for a couple of days

We landed in Hyderabad at some late hour - surprise, surprise.

I like IndiGo though - they do budget airline well. Jugs of filtered water on the trolley - foresight. And the poor stewardess put up with me pretty much wanting to down the jug of water too. You can book your meals online at a reasonable price as well - take that, Ryanair!

I then met an old American who'd travelled everywhere I want to go, and more, but who wasn't quite as crazy as John. But getting there. The weirdest bit: he used to work at Warwick University, my alma mater (I love being able to use that phrase), and knew the number 12 bus well. Ah, memories.

We'd have to wait an hour for the bus, and it wouldn't cost much more to share a taxi.

"Taxi sir? Taxi? Where you go?"

No, prepaid.

800 rupees? You're a funny man.

"Turn left! Left!" No, the prepaid is in front of me. On my right.

500 rupees. Thought so. No, the driver at the front of the queue will take us, regardless of what "good deals" you try to offer us to drop us both off at our separate hotels. No, I can't afford 2000 rupees a night for a room, I'm poor.

There was a proper expressway into town as well, with flyovers and everything, of the kind that I really don't expect of India. They need them too - the traffic is crazy on the city streets.

Walking past all these autos was fun. AUTO, SIR?
And eventually we came across the American's hotel, dropped him off, and were left with the next question: where on earth is my hotel? And how am I going to get there?

200 rupees and I'll take you, the taxi driver said.

OK, we'll go with that. It's late and I need a bed to sleep in.

So we headed in the general direction of the hotel, and got lost. And asked many locals where it was. And laughed about it a lot.

Eventually, we found the place, and I gave him his 200, we laughed about it again, and off he headed.

Always fills you with confidence when you're greated by a security scanner
And after all that, it was 600 a night. I knew it would be more expensive here, but I was hoping for more like 400. Ah well, I'll live, the country's dirt cheap anyway.

Even if I've got to pay for wifi. By the hour. At 50 rupees per hour. The going internet cafe rate is 20 rupees an hour. But I met a Malaysian guy who just gave me the code anyway - even if his impeccable English made me question if he was really a foreigner.

So at some silly hour of night I finally made it to bed.

The next day came around and after being a confused foreigner at breakfast (that's their own fault for giving two neighbouring restaurants the same name) then I wanted to make it to the Charminar, something of a symbol of Hyderabad.

But I had to take an autorickshaw. And so as per usual, I got overcharged, but went with it anyway. It gave me another opportunity to complain about them at least. I like complaining about autorickshaw drivers. Not sure if you've noticed.


The Charminar is pretty impressive actually - even if half the people there wanted to sell me some awful-looking sunglasses (they seemed highly offended when I informed them of this) and luggage.

Yes, there are touts selling luggage. At an historical monument. No, that's not generally where I choose to buy my luggage. In fact, this is a bit weird.


And there was the usual queue of Indians wanting a photo with me. I've decided that I don't want to be a celebrity - it would just annoy me.


Eventually they let me climb up the stairs to the top. I'm a bit of a weirdo who enjoys looking aimlessly at views of places, despite the fact that the view is ALWAYS THE SAME.

And at some point I realised that, and did my usual wandering act. Except I wandered into the bazaar, which as a white man in India was not the best place for a wander.


No, I don't want any pearls. Do I look female?

By the way, hi sexism/feminism brigade.

So it was time for the confused foreigner act again, this time at the Mecca Masijd. It's made of stone from Mecca, and I wasn't sure if us infidels were allowed in. Yes, we are. And I can just keep my bag on my back, despite the fact it most certainly has a laptop in. And probably a Swiss army knife too.


The issue with the confused foreigner look is that certain characters accost you, then demand 100 rupees for their 5 minutes of talking about things I already know. And no, I'm an infidel, I don't particularly want to donate to your charity.

I tried to work out where the buses went from, as the Birla Mandir was a good 8km north and I wasn't particularly feeling like burning my rupees again. In the end, I just ended up walking a good couple of miles north - and I still didn't have a clue where the bus went from.

But it's all OK - some more Indians now have photos of a white man to send to everyone they know.

So I found some autorickshaw drivers and asked how much they'd take me to the bus stand for.

150. Funny man. 120. And the meter's "not working". Oh yeah, of course. And there's lots of traffic. Yes, there's always lots of traffic.

Thankfully, I got bailed out by an honest driver, who took me for 70. He then offered to take me all the way for 150 total, which sounded like a good deal - so I went for it. Mostly because he was actually honest.

Though of course he didn't have change.

So I paid the entry fee for the park (yeah, what now?) with a 100 note. He definitely had a few 10s for change. And yes, he did of course ask if I had change. No, I need 50 rupees for the driver anyway. I also had to put my bag in a locker, because apparently I might blow up a palm tree or something.

Imagine
The reason I went through the park was to get across to a boat that went to the Buddha statue that was randomly chucked into the middle of the lake.

OK, all fairly simple. I paid and got on, and so we headed over.

At which point I realised that I was stuck on a small island for 15 minutes with only a large statue of a Buddha for company. So I took an excessive number of photos of the thing so I could waste more time deleting half of them.
Alright mate
An Indian family still had to be rushed back on to the boat after about 20 minutes. What was holding them up was beyond me - but then again, people are confusing creatures.

Eventually we made it back to shore, and I got confused that they actually offered refreshments at reasonable prices here. Then the staff were all paying 2 rupees to weigh themselves on the scales and comparing themselves - so I joined them, which they of course found absolutely hilarious - especially when I was a good 20kg heavier than them.

And you get a printout of it, which is pretty cool.

So with all palm trees intact, I picked up my bag from the place I'd stored it and wandered off towards the Birla Mandir. And of course got accosted by an autorickshaw driver, who said he'd take me for 20. Cool, I'll go with that.

But of course, there was a catch. There's always a catch. He wanted me to go to a pearl shop first.

No, I don't want pearls.

But had he told me that (as it turns out) he got 5kg of rice for just taking 10 people there, I would have gone in, stood around and pretended to be interested for 10 minutes, then left. Instead, he showed me a leaflet that said that the Birla Mandir didn't open until 3pm, so I may as well go inside. No, it definitely opens at 2.

But no cameras or phones inside.
That's all I could sneak a photo of
But it's OK to take your bag in, with a LAPTOP inside. And a swiss army knife.

The security body scanners are definitely just for show here as well - they never actually turn them on. Or if they do, they just make you walk through without taking anything out of your pockets - which kind of defeats the object of them.

And I still couldn't muster the buses, even if I tried. None of them seemed to go to the bus stand, which is a bit strange - but this is India after all.

So I just had to be overcharged by an autorickshaw driver again, as per usual. And he tried to take me to a pearl shop too. No. And "government approved" can mean whatever you want it to mean, don't bother trying.

So having not seen as much of Hyderabad as I liked, I went back to the hotel, where my cultural experience consisted of getting room service to bring me food, and having the cheerful guy try to put my TV on the Bollywood channel. Or the cricket.


He was a great laugh. And the biryani he brought me was huge - and blooming good. So I shared it with him, and told him that I didn't need to buy his maps or toilet paper. Ah, this is India after all.

The next day I had a night train, but until then, I could wander round Hyderabad again. So I walked across to Nampally where I could get a bus up to Golconda, the old Mughal fort.

No, still can't muster these buses.

Autorickshaw?

Who agreed to use the meter.

What now? Maybe it's because I confused him with my here-Golconda-hotel-Secunderabad plan - which would have given him a decent fare at the end of it all, probably with a bit extra for being honest and actually using the meter.

It was 115 rupees by meter to the fort, and so I told him to wait for me. The next was lost in translation, but he asked for 200 rupees for waiting - which is a bit strange, as normally they just ask for money at the end of the day. Fair enough, maybe he doesn't want me to do a runner.


So I had a wander around the fort, without the map that the various touts seemed insistent that I buy.

No, I won't look at it or read it.

It didn't actually take as long as I thought it would to get around the place, even if I had constant stops for photos. Some things never change. And a stop to watch some Indian guys who'd climbed the walls getting shouted at by security. That's the kind of thing I'd usually do.


I had time to go to the tombs nearby, so I went to find my driver.

No, the cheeky bint has taken my money and done a runner, even when he was pretty much guaranteed a fairly big fare off me.

Or maybe I confused him and something got lost in translation.

I have no idea, but autorickshaw drivers were already playing a game of who can shout the loudest to try to get me to go back with them. Eventually I got someone to take me for 150, as was reasonable - I knew the metered fare.

Just in case you have no common sense
Troop Bazaar is here. Yes, this is the edge of the area that my hotel's in, and I have no idea where to go next. Yet he still asked for more money on the basis that it was a "long journey".

No, you've not even taken me to my hotel, and white man fare will cover it. And I don't give to beggars.

I managed to stumble across the correct street though.

So I whiled away the time, and eventually went and found an auto to take me to Secunderabad. 120 rupees? Seems reasonable. Or maybe all the unreasonable fares have made me unable to judge cost, I don't know.

So I had one last Hyderabad biryani and joined the scrum of people in the train station.

I liked Hyderabad though. There was something about the place that I can't quite explain. I kind of wish I'd spent a bit longer there, going into the suburbs a bit more, really understanding the place a bit more. And eating biryani for breakfast a few more times. It's got atmosphere, character, and is a rare example of an Indian city I like.

And next time, I'll work out how to use the buses, because autorickshaws here like to rip you off.

Next stop: Bhubaneswar. Via a 23 hour train journey up the east coast, just as the cyclone is about to hit.

Friday, 27 December 2013

Ahmed is bad - and other bad geographically based jokes

I used to have a teacher who made geography jokes. I never thought I'd drop to her level. 

Actually, thinking about it, it's not that much of a surprise.

So, next destination: Ahmedabad. 

So obscure that most people haven't heard of it, and indeed asked why on earth I was going there. 

To get to Hyderabad. 

Hyder is bad? Water is bad? Nah, city of water. Like Ahmedabad is Ahmed's city. 

Once I take back the Empire, I'll be all cultured and make Anselmabad the capital. Or something appropriate like that. 
Yes, yes, I did
So, as usual, getting there is half the fun. There's a day train or night train down there - for some reason I decided to go for the night train. Even though it arrived at 4:30am. But this is no short trip - it's about 10 and a half hours. Departing at 17:45. 

Someone didn't think this through. 

If that wasn't bad enough, it was also a metre gauge line. Which meant the train shook from side to side excessively. For OVER 10 HOURS. 

And I'd forgotten to get food beforehand. Normally, there's a pantry car on the train - but not on this train. Nor were there the usual assorted sellers - the line doesn't get enough traffic for that. So I had to get off at a (relatively) large station and sprint across to the small counter on the platform, joining the scrum of people shouting what they want at the poor guy behind it. Of course, this is India, and there is most certainly not a word for "queue" in Hindi. 

"ACHE PANNI, ACHE PANNI"

No need for please and thankyou - this is India. 

And I had some samosas. I really shouldn't - they upset the stomach - but there's nothing else on offer. Except for the usual choice of mediocre biscuits - that of course, I also bought. 

So food down me, I went to bed at 8pm - because this is an Indian sleeper train, and everyone goes to bed at 8pm on Indian sleeper trains. 

Usually I wake up multiple times in the night because it's cold - or I wake up because some douche has forgotten that it's 3am and that making noise, playing rubbish music on their phone or turning the main light on disturbs people who might, strangely, be sleeping - and stay awake because it's cold. 

But no, this is Gujarat - and it's warm at all hours of the day. I like these kinds of places. Apart from the fact I could never live in India - it's too crazy.


Unfortunately for me, the train arrived on time, and as per usual, some poor Indian had to wake me up, and answer my stupid questions, like "is this Ahmedabad?" and "we're on time?"

"Auto? Auto?"
"How much?"
"We'll go by the meter."

First time I've heard that phrase in a while. 

Oh right, there's a catch. Of course there's a catch. I'll only take you to a certain hotel. It's close by! It's close by! Yes, but the station isn't close to anything. And having to pay your commission negates any saving by using the meter. 

So I went outside to be at the mercy of the other drivers. Who wouldn't use the meter. "Night fare, night fare".

"100 rupees, 100 rupees. Night fare, night fare".

Yeah, any excuse to charge me white man fare. I know how this works. 

And please, stop trying to take me to another (expensive) hotel on whatever basis you claim. No, I'll pay 300 rupees a night for a room, thank you very much. 

Ah, taxi drivers...

Given that it wasn't yet 5am, I had to wake up the poor kid to let me in. He seemed very confused that I was turning up, so I just paid for 2 nights instead, got into my room/prison cell, and fell asleep. The combination of the bouncy, shaking sleeper train, the samosas and the early start had, surprise surprise, made me feel a bit queasy. 

And I slept. 

And did the usual thing of having breakfast at about midday. But I couldn't find the non-veg place anywhere, so just found some eggs. Oh, and ice cream. Gujarati ice cream is renowned in India - and it's incredible. Appropriately, the best stuff is named Havmor. Yes, yes, I will.

Yes, stop judging me already
I went for a wander as per usual, but this is in no way a tourist destination, and so it was a little bit difficult to actually find anything, given that I didn't do anything sensible like carry a map. Oops.

All I could work out is that the bazaar is massive. And that given that they don't really see tourists, I'm even more of a novelty (read: object of staring) than usual. 

At least I don't have the constant "autorickshaw sir?" to put up with.

Just a load of market sellers who want photos. 





I have no idea what half of them are selling, but there we go. This is India. Real India.

But my wander had tired me out. I still hadn't recovered from that train journey - so I just went and slept, because I'm a fun guy like that. 

I did my usual thing of waking up just before sunset, and discovered a restaurant with meat. And they didn't skimp on their servings of meat as they often do in this country - this was a proper meal. Definitely not going to get ill from enforced vegetarianism again. 

Second day in Ahmedabad and I finally got outside at a somewhat decent time. Might be something to do with the 9am checkout; in fact, 9am is the "extended checkout". They like to rise early here. Strange people.

This early rising also extends to any city tours you can do - which might actually help here, given the total lack of tourist infrastructure and knowledge. But that involves getting to the other side of the city at 8:30am, which is pushing it a little too much. 

So I relied on the Lonely Planet as per usual, which was suitably over-the-top in its recommendations.

This is apparently one of the highlights. OK then.
They've really gone downhill since the BBC took over and tried to push them upmarket, or whatever they tried to do - there's a reason they lost so much money on it, and it's not just because of market trends. People actually enjoyed reading the old ones. 

To give you an example: I found an old copy of the Wales Lonely Planet the other day. What else to do but look up what it says about my hometown, Newport? The first line was genuinely this:

"Hello, I'm Newport, and I'm a bit of a dump."

Whether Newport's only a bit of a dump is questionable, but it made me crack up - which is never a good idea in a bookshop, but there you go. The old LPs have useful advice, and were written in a far better way - even if seemingly less professional. Shame that certain aspects get out of date. 


The Jama Masjid is really nice though - made of stone. And the guy inside who explained some of this to me didn't demand - or want - money. And there were actually other foreigners there - I presume the ones who were actually up at 8:30am. 


But having found one actual highlight, I went for a wander to find the others. Either they were so unimpressive that I didn't notice them, or I couldn't find them - but either way, I was lost, and autos actually use their meter here. 

Kankaria Lake.

Which I can't pronounce properly, and so is very confusing for the locals. 

We got there eventually. 

It was closed. Because it was a Monday. How random. 

OK, back to the hotel then. I can't think of anywhere else to go. 

Yeah, this could be any city in the world really
So off I wandered from there, across the river. 

Then I saw it: a rotating tower. With a buffet. For a fiver. Not actually that cheap given that it's India, but I let the excitement of going up a tower get over me, and went for it. 


But I was ill, and to make it worse, the buffet was veg-only. 

And it was a view of Ahmedabad - which is, to be frank, a distinctly average city. 

So I counted down the hours until my flight, not wanting to potentially waste money on taking an autorickshaw to the more distant sights, given the quality of some of the other recommendations. 

Eventually my flight was suitably close that I could justify taking the bus to the airport, and with much shouting, pointing and hand-waving later, I found the one that went there. 

And maybe I should have actually hired the auto - there are some fairly nice sights a bit further out on the way to the airport. Which I didn't get any photos of, because I was trying to work out where to get off, and which one the "airport roundabout" was. 

And I won't get any photos of, because I don't plan on coming back here unless I have to. 

Turns out the airport roundabout was 2km away from the actual airport, and that taking an autorickshaw that distance would cost 3 times the bus fare. 

He wanted 5 times the bus fare as well. Funny man. 

Even if the bus fare was 10p. And even if I don't normally argue over 20p - but if they're petty, then I'll be petty. 

Made it. The airport is far too civilised though. Aircon, electricity ports - and no staring. A bit weird really. Bit of a bubble. 
Yeah, this isn't the real India
And Indigo could teach Ryanair a few things. They give you a free 15kg baggage allowance for one - even though the fare is just £20 for a 2 hour flight. And despite the fact my bag was 17.5kg due to accumulated clutter (it was well under the allowance at the beginning) they didn't say anything - even though I was getting ready to wear 6 t-shirts at once and balance the wood carving on my head like a proper local. 

Security didn't care about my flask being full of water either. Western airport security this is not. I only look like a drug trafficker, not a terrorist, as they seem to realise. I can't even grow a proper beard.

Airport food is overpriced though. Probably my fault for going for my first Subway in over a month, but for British prices it certainly wasn't British quality. 

So it only seemed appropriate that I had one more Gujarati ice cream before I left.

Hadmor.

Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Apparently, India has lakes

So having failed to find meat again, I now had to make it to Udaipur.

Well, I had to make it to Kota first. This totally confused the Indians who didn't know why I wanted to go to another station, when the train called at Bundi afterwards.

Put it this way.

Arrival in Udaipur: 7:30am.
Kota: 1:30am.
Bundi: 2:30am. 

I like my sleep. And I'm happy to pay £2 for an extra hour of it. 

So after going into and out of the bus station several times attempting to find a bus to take me to Kota, a jeep turned up. 50 rupees? Yeah, that'll do. Even if he had to stop to empty a litre of petrol from a plastic bottle into the tank halfway. I suppose they're recycling at least.

Except he didn't drop me anywhere near the station, and I had to take an autorickshaw to the train station. The joys. And given that white man fare is 100 rupees, and it's always "far away", then that's what I paid. To be fair, it was quite far away - though given the stupid fares I get asked for I don't know how much I should be paying any more. 

I made friends with a policeman on the station, and failed to get a photo with his gun. But he was a genuinely nice guy, and I now have the number of a policeman on my phone. Friends in high places eh? 

The night train was a night train. That is all. 

Except it actually arrived on time. The one time I wanted it to be late. I don't like 7:30am very much. Or at all.

I also got lucky with the autorickshaw driver again. I knew it would be a good sign when he was happy for me to go to prepaid (so I didn't bother), and then he got out a book of recommendations - just like Pradeep in Agra. He was surprised that there was an honest driver in Agra too, but there you go. Billu, take a bow.

Day tour? Yeah, sounds good. 4 hours? Even better. And today I can just wander round the palace and other standard central things. 

And I actually found a dorm in India! 150 rupees as well, and I could move in at whatever silly hour of the morning it was right then. And have some breakfast and abuse the wifi. Even better.

Ah, sunrise light, how I would see you more if I was less lazy

Eventually I decided that I wasn't up for a nap right now, and that I'd go and explore the city palace. Except that they seem to do entry fees galore for exhibits WITHIN the palace complex - so I just got a ticket that got me into the complex for 30 rupees and had a wander.

Buuuut...... I only want some simple information. Where do I go?
A limited wander, it turns out. 

So I just went for a boat trip. I like spontaneous boat trips. 

We went past the famous palace on the lake, but it's kind of privately owned and doesn't want smelly backpackers like me turning up and pretending they might actually buy something - so I just got to imagine what it feels like to be rich.


Instead, we went to some other island, which I assume is government-owned. Government-owned islands, eh? I was hungry and it had a restaurant - but of course everything was overpriced here. Ridiculously overpriced. £4 was the cheapest meal (no chance), and it was 83p for a bottle of water. They're normally 20p. Also, 83p is far too random a price. But this is India I suppose.

But I needed a nap. Or alternatively I was hungry. Couldn't even afford a coffee though - so I just went with it. But all photos of me are terrible/hilarious/look like I'm pulling a face. So no, you're not allowed to look at them. They're for my embarrassment only.

Eventually we hit land again - and I ignored the various touts who wanted me to buy various items I didn't need. Especially the one who shook my hand, but held on and dragged me into his shop.

I just got up and left.

And no, I don't want any silk.

I was in search of food - specifically, meat.

Found it. Chicken tastes even better when you haven't had any in days. And I'm fairly sure that not eating meat made me ill. My argument number 1 against vegetarianism. Regardless of how awful an argument it is. No, I don't care. I dropped philosophy therefore it's OK.

Either way, now it was nap time.

And how I napped.

Nearly missed the sunset as well.

Phew
I need to stop making a habit of that. It never ends well.

Thankfully, the setting sun made a great excuse when people tried to get me into their shops and whatnot, especially when I told them that I'd been to India 4 times and that I was basically Indian.


"But can't you tell from my skin? No? Too gora?"

I was accosted by a guy who used to teach economics, who genuinely seemed uninterested in extracting money from me. And he didn't extract money from me - and actually he led me to a rooftop where I got an even better view.
There it is again
And he took photos of me. What a guy. Didn't even get his name.

So back I went again - and I saw these two guys on a motorbike. Again. For what must have been the fourth time that day. After the compulsory joke about stalking, one of them explained that he was from the government and was telling people about the true price of pashmina. Actually, if it's real pashmina, it's 200$ or 500$. Yeah, nice try. So I just claimed that I had to skype my mum (sorry mum!) and made a beeline for the guesthouse.

And there I hid until the next day. I had an autorickshaw tour of the suburbs with Billu to be up for - and an Australian girl I met, Ella, offered to tag along too. A bit of company is always good, and it splits the fare: sorted.

Except Billu had sent along one of his drivers, rather than coming himself.

Damn. Billu had character. This guy most certainly didn't.

First, a vegetable market. Because every tour must include a token visit to some "local market", just to show that you're "experiencing the local culture" or something.


Or I presume that's why the big tour group were there too.

Very cultural, wandering around a market with a load of other foreigners.

Next were the cenotaphs. I love it when they just plonk a load of historical/religious/nice-looking objects into a space far too small for them, so I quite liked this part. Even if they were so off the beaten track that going inside involved stepping in bird poo. Barefoot, because this is a Hindu site.


Staring at things done (my concentration span is too short) I left. But first, I had to pay someone a camera fee. Oh yes, there's a sign that says photography is prohibited. I like to take photos of these. I will have to do a blogpost of them all at some point.


The driver seemed to think we'd spend about 3 hours at the two gardens he took us to next. Yeah, not much chance of that. And there are actually TOUR GUIDES in these gardens. I thought they should maybe consider alternative career paths, but then I actually saw some people taking a tour. In a park.

This was cool though.
This is grass. This is a hedge. This is a tree. Oh look, some more grass. This grass originated in.....well, 2013. Maybe 2012 if it's vintage.

Look, more trees!

We only got held up by the usual "PHOTO! PHOTO!" call of the Indians. And apparently, white girls get small children given to them to hold. I'm glad they don't try to make me hold their babies.

Especially not the one who started kicking and screaming at the simple touch of white skin.

But we were back quickly enough to move on to whatever was coming up next. It was 11:40am, so not quite time for lunch.

"OK, so the tour's ended."

And at that, we both nearly exploded.

No chance was he getting 500 rupees for this. Or any extra for taking us somewhere else to fill the 4 hours that were meant to be used for the tour.

But because we got a little angry, he took us to the artist's village.

This is the extent of the housing
Well, not sure what the Trade Descriptions Act would make of that, but there we go.

It was fairly dead.

The stone sculpture park was mildly amusing though.


And my camera ran out of batteries halfway through. Apparently that doesn't qualify you for a 50% refund of the camera fee. Yes, I tried.

Actually, I don't think he understood, but yeah.

This very long and exhilarating tour over, it was time to return to the Lotus Cafe for more chicken. Chicken is important to us carnivorous types after all.

That done, time to rest and avoid the pashmina salesman who I told I'd come back to tomorrow. Given how many times he found me yesterday, that involved hiding inside and doing absolutely nothing, as I quite like to.

Time to escape over state borders.

P.S. 
Merry Christmas!

Note: This blog is nowhere near in realtime, in fact it's about one month behind reality. Sorry for the delay! Please refer to the map on the right for current location - the furthest one in red away from home!

Friday, 13 December 2013

The work of goblins, rather than men

So said Rudyard Kipling when he visited Bundi many years ago. But first I had to get there - and a 6 hour journey was surely going to be eventful, even by the standards of my journeys.

First: get back to Ajmer. Eventually I worked out where on earth the station was (in a different place to the one that all the others went from, and that I'd assumed I'd arrived at last time) and told an autorickshaw driver that no, I didn't want to pay 300 rupees to get there - I'll just pay 10 rupees for the bus. Even if it involved sitting on the exit steps.

OK, uneventful so far. But we're only 20 minutes in. I did my standard confused foreigner act of shouting "Bundi?" at anyone who looked like they knew, and several people who didn't (must have disturbed them from the very important act of staring or something) but eventually found one that was going that way.

We left the bus station and then, about 5 miles outside Ajmer, we stopped in the middle of nowhere. Half the bus got off and went to a counter next to it. As someone explained to me, I had to go buy a ticket.

But this is a state bus, with a conductor. So what's the point of the conductor then?

134 rupees to Bundi. OK, here's 200.

And then the Indian lack of change hit. 62 rupees and 2 chocolate eclairs in change. This means that a chocolate eclair is worth 2 rupees. It's official. It's real currency. The state bus ticket office gave it to me, so I must be right.

We stopped in a few places that I definitely confused with Bundi, purely because they were on the bus route and also in India. In my confusion, I forgot that I had just been ill and agreed to have some street food on the basis that the first one I tried was quite nice. But as always with street food, the first one's good but the rest are bland and fairly nasty. And I definitely didn't want the rice, which was even worse than I thought, but I made friends with some locals by donating it to them.

In the next place, they played the game of reserving seats - because queuing is far too un-Indian for them. Bags, agricultural produce, small children - everything was passed through the windows. Thankfully, given that I was too British to tell them that no, they needed to stop passing stuff through now, a local helped me out. And so I had to shut the window and roast.

As we approached Bundi (for real this time), a friendly local saw me and told me we were nearby. "This is the local jail, this is how you know you're in Bundi". Then after two weeks, I saw the first car accident in India, on the uncompleted dual carriageway just after the jail. Good timing, eh? And who knows how long they've been building that dual carriageway for.

Then there it was. And yes, it looks like it's growing out of the mountain. Built by goblins? Maybe.

Ah, so this one is Bundi, right?
I was half-tempted to walk, but I was feeling a bit ill and an autorickshaw said he'd take me up to the fort for 50 rupees, so I went with him instead. Even if we then had a slight collision with another auto on the way: cue a short shouting match and, thankfully, my auto driving off rather than having a punch-up, as sometimes happens.

Got dropped off outside a hotel. I know the usual commission deal with these places, so normally I avoid them and find my own place, but I was ill, tired, and really couldn't be bothered. Even if it was 600 a night, it was a nice room and was right next to the fort. With a rooftop view of it too. Score.


I could barely finish my thali as well. Maybe it's because it's also vegetarian, and I still can't find any meat. Maybe that's why I'm ill. I'm going to say it is. Suits my worldview and all that. My carnivorous worldview.

I wasn't feeling brilliant the next day, and I missed the 10am checkout - but I needed to explore the work of goblins after all. They tried to convince me to pay for the room for another day rather than just leaving my bag somewhere in the property (the room didn't even have a lock - no chance) but eventually I got out of there and into the palace.

In the day, it looks more like this.
Then I got distracted by 5 rupee postcards. And super-cheap paintings, which he asked for 100 rupees per day's work. That's £1 per day's work. And they were good too! Even if he was maybe exaggerating how long it took to paint them, he's still not earning a great deal. And he still gave me a lassi for my custom. He'll have good karma for sure.


So in I went. It's impressive, even if, like Orchha, it's falling apart. Makes it feel more real. Though I'm not sure that goblins are able to paint as well as is found inside.


Good view over Bundi too - the place is very blue. Move over, Jodhpur.


So up I went to the fort, which I'm fairly sure actually is made by goblins. Or the path definitely is at least, given how many times I nearly fell over. Oh, and it was basically midday by this point, which isn't exactly ideal for wandering up a mountain.

Dripping, I chucked some water over myself. This didn't entirely help the dripping situation, but at least I wasn't overheating any longer.


The place was overgrown. If the palace was falling apart, then this was a pile of stones - it was a proper ruin.

Which is where my 6-year-old self kicked in, and I went to explore. And got lost. And explored some more. And had to watch for stray animals, and scare off some monkeys.

After about 2 hours up there, I'd out-explored myself to the extent that the grammar on my blog is a little questionable, and I'm starting to make up words. So I attempted to make my way out of there - easier said than done. Eventually I made it to the gate, but no - a group of Indians saw white man.
This may or may not be that group of Indians that wanted a photo. There were several.
So I practised my Hindi.

Turns out that the word for 14 is very similar to the f-word in Hindi, and that's why they were laughing at my pronunciation of it in Agra.

Eventually though I made my way down, nearly falling victim to the path more than once. Ah, going off the tourist trail, what was I saying about it again?

By this point I needed some lunch, but my stomach didn't want too much. I went to a place called Lakha restaurant on Sadar Bazaar. It was owned by a guy called Lakha. Original name number 67.

I thought scrambled eggs would be a good shout, but he didn't know how to make them. So I taught a cook at a restaurant how to scramble eggs, which was generally hilarious. He was a funny guy who showed me his book of pictures of previous customers, including a French girl who he told me he wanted to marry. Male nod of approval.

Ok, time for a wander.

Photo? Photo? Photo?

Yes, ok then.


One more photo?

OK.

Photo? Photo? One photo?

No, you've been in about five already.

Then a kid on a bike wanted a conversation. Normally it goes along the lines of
"Sir, what country?"
"UK"
"England?" or "United States of America? Obama!" (or on rare occasions, "oh, United Kingdom")
"No, UK. Wales."
"Is that in England?"
Silence.

"Are you married or unmarried?"
"Unmarried"
"Why?"
I don't know!

This time, no. "Are you veg or non-veg?"

Important questions, eh. So I told him I was non-veg, to which the reply was that he didn't like me, and that I was dirty. How amusing. Well a few days of enforced vegetarianism has made me ill, so too bad. I'll just have to be dirty and unliked. I'll live.

I planned on going and seeing the sunset over the castle, on the basis that it made for good photos. Unfortunately I just can't help but be accosted by people in art shops, and if you sit there and drink chai with them for a couple of hours then they reduce their "very low small-town price" by half for you. Yes, I've never heard that one before.

They were a good laugh though. Especially when he spoke about his kama sutra paintings. His poor wife.

So I continued in my search for meat, and went into a place on the basis that he had beer. But they still had no meat. And every restaurant can find you beer, even if they don't admit to having it on their menu. Normally they find it in their fridge, but there you go.

Bundi, Bundi, Bundi. I think I might be back.