Rajasthani Rooster

smokes

Smoke o’clock, Jodhpur

Indeed, the title of this post makes no sense really, without the additional footnote that, back in January during Chinese New Year (Rooster year) Issy and I took a trip to Rajasthan.

In fact, I’d set up these photos and curated that catchy title whilst we were on our flight home and yet had just not quite managed to write up some lines to glue the images and the memories all together – until now.

If my most recent work trip to West Bank and Gaza, earlier this month, already feels like a hazy memory, then the brain is really scratching around looking for the according nodules of recollection which house the sights, sounds and sensations that we experienced in India, four months back.

What does immediately come to mind is what a relatively seamless expedition we managed – 1,500 kms in 6 days from Jaipur to Jaisalmer, and back again – before closing out by dropping in at the Taj Mahal for a final day’s soak up of one of the world’s most iconic sites.

Getting around Rajasthan is fairly simple and affordable. The trains are a great experience, and we also lucked out with a wonderful driver and hire car for most of our trip “out west”.

Starting in Delhi, dodging thunderstorms in rip-off auto rickshaws and finding everything closed for Republic Day, we did finally stumble upon a quaint haveli — Dharampura — to escape the showers and drink some tea. One of those preserved throw-back buildings which mesmerize, given the back-drop outside of cluttered hole-in-the-wall shops, constant traffic, shuffling feet and precarious potholes.

It was a charming find, for sure.

Dharampura Haveli, Delhi

In search of tea and havelis, Delhi

We had two visits to Jaipur, the first being a brief layover on our way westwards to Jodhpur, and to pick up our car.

Jaipur is famed for its “pinkness” and its fabric, and so we put in an early morning run to get a glimpse of the former, and we were then on a promise for a longer stay on our way back, very much because of the latter…

We love our instagrams-whilst-jogging we do

And so onto Jodhpur, and a second fleeting one night stay, complete with early morning run, to cram in as much seeing as much as we could.

Notable memories (revisiting these photos is helping blow the cobwebs away, it turns out) included our first mouth-watering parathas, but also then being chased by stray dogs at 6am the next day, whilst we were in hot pursuit of a sunrise shot at the Mehrangarh Fort.

Sadly, we weren’t allowed in to the Fort itself (apparently we were 3 hours too early) and so, once more, we pledged to come back on our return leg.

Meantime, not a moment to lose – we had a hotel booked the next day in Jaisalmer…

Serene (in spite of a hungry pack of dogs waiting around the corner)

Jodhpur, the blue city

Khandela Haveli, Jaipur (yes, photos out of order at this point)

Lunch stop somewhere in Rajasthan

Jaisalmer — and what a glorious place on earth this place is.

Our daily hotel budget was well and truly blown out of the water for our inaugural night here, staying at Killa Bawan, and taking a room in their fort hotel, with a balcony fit for a Bollywood rendition of Romeo and Juliet. 

Perhaps the chance to rest up here for a few days helped, however I think Jaisalmer is just one of those places that you simply have to embrace, and let it take the lead.

There’s no sense of the pulsating industrialised throb of India’s urban centres here, Jaisalmer instead offers a languid slice of the past with a double measure of fun and humour and humility (and we were literally staying “on the rocks” in that Fort, too, were you to want to extend this gin and tonic analogy to its natural end point.)

We had three nights here (a veritable ‘eon’ compared to the prevailing 5 days of chop and change) including a middle night where we embraced the obligatory camel safari and slept in a tent, out in the (quite) famous Sam Sand dunes.

So, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend the full tent experience. That said, the comedy on arrival of there being a complete absence of anybody to meet us, coupled with the so-excruciating-it’s-fantastic evening entertainment, as well as the overall bathos of sleeping in a plastic tent with dark blue walls and sparkly stars stuck on the roof, the very night after the luxury of Killa Bawan where we’d pretended we were in a Shakespearean play, loafing about on a balcony did, I’ll admit, provide us with a generous portion of hilarity.

We also managed to find a branded “UK” off-licence out in the desert, which perhaps made this, of all our nights in Rajasthan, one never to be forgotten.

The view from our room at Killa Bawan, Jaisalmer

As cups of morning coffee go….

More running in Jaisalmer

Lake views

Nomad for the night at Sam Sand dunes

Our camel’s name was ‘Babaganoush’

Love at first sight

After our final evening in Jaisalmer – staying at the sister hotel to Killa Bawan and run by the same loveable and eccentric family – we said our farewells, and turned on our heels.

Our driver, Mukesh, was beaming that morning, showing off his newly acquired threads, after being paid half his fee, and I think also having found his own zen amongst the local cafes in Jaisalmer (whilst being in frequent contact with his mother back home on his phone).

Doubling back through Jodhpur and Jaipur was fab – we had that extra ounce of being “in the know” and we were also deep into the second half of our trip, and so were prioritising and “getting stuff done”.

For Issy, this largely meant shopping. For me, the focus was more on running lots in order to then be free to consume as much food and beer as possible.

After several days of fine tuning our respective objectives, we left Jaipur by train, and across to Agra, with smiles on our faces (and carrying the extra weight of various fabrics, plus some extra “me”).

Mehrangarh Fort, Jodhpur

Running upto Amber Fort in Jaipur

Jaipur market

By the time we’d rolled off a thousand selfies at the infamous Taj, and then collapsed asleep back in Delhi, after a final night out there with some colleagues from CARE, we’d well and truly ticked all the various pre-arranged boxes for this very special visit.

It had all been so deliciously intoxicating – that dreamy assault on the senses that India tends to deliver.

This is a country, as I’ve many times attempted to summarise on these pages, unlike any – for various reasons and on many different levels – and I can only hope that time will pass quickly enough, and fate will conspire, to get us back there again soon.

There she is!

After dinner paan sampling selfie, in Delhi with friends

Issy at, and looking, ‘Killa’

Jaisalmer streets

One of Issy’s favourite shops (which was a franchise to boot so plenty of choices!)

“This way to the UK off-licence, it’s buy one get one free on Mondays”

Where for art thou?

Issy in India

Issy “on a finger at the Taj” shot

So many quaffable sunrises…

…and sunsets

 

 

 

 

 

Pausing for Thought

Saigon is hotting up once more.  Now I appreciate that, for many of you who drop in on saigonsays from time to time, even when Saigon is not “hotting up” there is a good chance that it still might be considerably warmer here than what other parts of the world have put up with for the past half a year.  Simply put, Saigon is always hot, except for the months we are now descending upon, when it slips sweatily into being really hot.

Time then for me to head West, first to Delhi at the weekend, for a week of work just as the country celebrates “Holi”-  the first day of spring (Monday 17th) – during which it is tradition to get splattered with coloured powder.  All of which makes for a pretty picture to stick at the top of a blog post.  Next Monday is also St Patrick’s Day – divinely timed, should Ireland come away with the Six Nations (rugby) trophy two days beforehand.

My ambition for Monday evening in Delhi next week is therefore to avoid too much pink and yellow hair dye during the day, and to successfully find a pint of Guinness in the evening. It’s not every Monday night you get to blend Hindu and Gaelic culture together in such a colourful way. Continue reading

Women’s empowerment: the responsibility of business?

Yesterday, I spoke at a United Nations Global Compact event in Delhi, convened by CARE India, and debating the role and responsibilities of business, in terms of how they address women’s empowerment.

As catchy opening lines go, it’s very possible that half the readership of this blog (yes, both of you) may not instantly be gripped by the idea of 1,500 words on anything just described.  You’d be forgiven for this, of course – it is Friday, a week from Christmas, and there are better things to be doing.

Believe me, there was a moment stepping up to join the panel yesterday when being an Englishman and talking about women’s empowerment and business in the Indian context (during New Delhi’s own centenary week since it was first established under colonial rule) made me wonder what I’d in fact let myself in for. Continue reading