Curry in a Hurry: Part One

Hindu Festival in Agra

In August 2011 we planned a two week trip to India. We flew from Hong Kong to Delhi, trained it from Delhi to Agra and Agra to Jaipur, took a 11 hour taxi from Jaipur to Jaisalmer, another train from Jaisalmer to Jodhpur, and flew from Jodhpur to Mumbai and Mumbai back to Hong Kong .

2 weeks in this country was certainly an experience. We were able to tick most of the ‘touristy’ boxes and the oh so wonderful ‘Delhi Belly’ experience, but we were also able to venture off the beaten track and find some curried gems of our own.

Reminiscing about this trip has suddenly conjured up a real hankering for butter chicken and freshly roasted garlic naan…mmmm garlic naan..

Korma Mutton...

Boarding the night flight to India was exciting. Once we were settled and doing some last minute Lonely Planet dog-earring, we were served the customary little segmented tray of food and the heaviest set of metal cutlery I have seen in a while. Opening the plastic encasing, to find these little weapons of food destruction, J and I looked at each other and started laughing, albeit nervously. Note: we belong to the generation that have never seen metal cutlery…metal ANYTHING on a plane before, and I doubt we ever will again…but honestly, on a plane to India and they are passing out little packets of would-be arsenal?? …quietly nervous was an understatement.

Landing in Delhi and getting our first taste of real Indian-style driving…(you think you’ve seen it all with Hong Kong taxi drivers? Na-ahh). I held my breath as we squeezed through the tightest corridors, walled by semi-trailers, painted and decorated with a rainbow of streamers, horns, whistles and novelty items – all tooting their ear-drum shattering horns in a musical cacophony of alarming proportions.

From Delhi we caught the early morning train to Agra to visit the Taj in all its amazing (and stinking hot) glory! We were ‘fortunate’ enough to find a guide to show us round, we were also ‘fortunate’ enough to buy him lunch, listen to his wonderful indian-english explanations of absolutely every microscopic detail of EVERYTHING, right down to the last tile on the Taj and then we were also fortunate enough to have him want to take us out again the very next day. Such a ‘lucky’ Australian couple.

The Taj Mahal

Needless to say, we managed to flick him after a day of service and wander into a quaint little rooftop restaurant that over looked the Taj and served some delicious Indian cuisine. Here, we watched the sunset, whilst dripping with sweat, and saw the Taj fade into a purple-blue mist whilst enjoying a deliciously nourishing feast of Indian delights served in tin plates and bowls, eating with our hands in true Indian style.

Agra has unfortunately been over taken by those that want to cash in on the tourist dollar and as a result, it’s quite an unpleasant place to be. It is noisey and littered, dirty and a little rough. I found that the locals here were much different to those we met elsewhere. They were more abrupt, pushy and often very rude. If it wasn’t for the Taj, baby taj, backside taj, moon garden and the Forts there would be no reason to hang around here…there are already enough bad smells.

Catching up while riding the train to Agra...

Trains in India are the best way to get around, we hopped on another one from Agra to Jaipur and it was a another great experience!

Arriving in Jaipur, I experienced an immediate feeling of “Oh, I love it here”. It was in contention for my favourite place during  the trip, along with Jaisalmer…but for different reasons, they are both winners.

Abdul teaching J to drive the Tuk Tuk

In Jaipur we met Abdul. If you have read the book ‘Shantaram’, he was like our very own little ‘Prabakar’.

At first we were hesitant and weary about ‘guides’ after our Agra experience but this guy was one of the greatest salesmen we had ever come across and before we knew it, we were best mates!

Jaipur stole all my rupies. Stunning gems and jewelry tempting me with every sparkle and shine. Textiles that involved so much craftsmanship and love, it made you stop and actually imagine the little Indian woman that had hunched over that richly coloured bedspread and hand sewed individual patches and pieces, mirrors and embroidery from her own collection. (How many tops from Zara have made you think about that? My guess is none.)

Beautiful handmade bedspread.From Jaipur

While we visited the factories, markets and streets where all the action was, Abdul putted us around in his little tuk tuk asking questions and giving answers…wobbling his head from side to side at the enjoyment we were all experiencing.

It wasn’t until we went to visit the Monkey Temple, that our first little spot of bother took place. Arriving back at our tuk tuk where Abdul had left us to walk up and see the monkeys, we realised he was gone…without his tuk tuk. Little boys with beautiful cocoa skin and eyes all shades of green and hazel came running from everywhere, they told us that the police had taken our friend and we had to try and save him. Indians…they love a good drama.

Monkey TempleWith our ‘his and hers’ super hero caps on, we flew down the dirt road to a very well hidden police station. Walking through the doors I saw my first Punjabi…his crystal blue eyes and dark caramel skin stopped me in my tracks, it was like nothing I have ever seen before.We wandered through the station poking our heads into random little rooms full of busted Indian men, legitimately incacerated or otherwise. We found Abdul in one of those sticky little lino rooms, he was caught for being an ‘unlicensed guide’. We tried our best to bail him out, but were told to ‘go away’ by the officers in charge. Abdul was so apologetic and the look of shame in his eyes was heartbreaking. He told us to go back to our hotel and that he would collect us in the morning.Abdul's Tuk Tuk

The next morning we were eating breakfast in the hotel restaurant, when we got a call from the reception “Mr J you have a phone call”. It was Abdul, coming to  collect us just as he said.

Another day visiting the sites with Abdul and his tuk tuk was great fun, we went and got henna tattoos, visited the floating palace, ate the best Indian food I have ever tasted at a local haunt and stained our hands with the juiciest most tender pieces of tandoori chicken and burnt our tongues on the toastiest, softest and doughiest naan bread…but the best part… I was able to pick up a ring that I had designed the day before.. I had chosen a 17ct Indian Sapphire and taken it to a jewelry maker to have molded and smoldered into a gorgeous square cut silver ring.

Getting henna'd

That night we were meant to get the overnight train to Jaisalmer, out in the desert. We had booked tickets months in advance but were unfortunately, for some unknown reason, still on the waiting list. We arrived at the train station at about 9pm, bellies full of our last Jaipurian Tandoor Chicken meal, only to be told that we were in fact, not on the train.

After about an hour spent running between the train station, the bus station and the taxi lot, we had failed. We missed the last bus and there was no place for us on the train. Sh…weppes.

After much discussion and concerned head wobbling, we decided to hire a taxi for the 10 hour drive across Rajasthan and the Thar desert. I’m not going to go into great length about this part of the trip, but needless to say it was BLOODY SCAREY. J nodded off in the front seat after 5 minutes on the road and there I was, left with the taxi driver who was blinking and rubbing his eyes like it was his 100th overnighter in a matter of days.

I kept saying; “Coffee? Chai? Rest? Nap?” nope.. he didn’t want a bar of it. He just wanted to get there and get there fast.

Somewhere between my concern for his sleep deprivation and our lives, a bollywood soundtrack on repeat (11 hours worth) and flying across dusty roads that were so dark you could barely see past your own nose, I drifted off to sleep and we awoke to some of the most arid and beautiful desert land i’ve seen in a while.

Enter Jaisalmer…

Stay tuned for Part Two: Jaisalmer, Jodhpur and Mumbai.

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