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March 26, 2020 / catherinebwrites


We left Agra for Jaipur. Fields of yellow flowers lined the roads. A relief from grey suburbs and ugly grey factories.

“Mustard flower” Deepak tells us.

Deepak is our driver and he’s turning out to be a mine of information. The sun is shining and that too is a relief from the fog and the smog. After several miles we drive into a car park, are assigned a guide and herded onto a bus. There’s another fort to visit.

Do I really want to see another fort?

On the way in we are assailed by men and boys selling beads and bangles, postcards and key rings. They are hard to shake off.

“My sister she make this.” they say “I sell for my sister. I buy food for family”

“Just ignore them.” says the guide.

“No thank you.” I say, steadfastly not looking at either the man or his goods. In India, the merest glance makes every seller assume that you want to buy.

“Please, M’am,” says one guy, “you look my face and tell me.”

It’s the least I can do, human to human. I look him straight in the eye.

“No thank you.”

He moves on to sombody else. Oh God I feel guilty.

This fort seems even grander than the others we’ve seen but, maybe that’s because it was founded by Akbar the Great. Akbar was the Emperor who, in the late 1500’s, through sensible rule, diplomacy and encouraging trade, extended the Moghul Empire to cover almost all of the land north of the Godavari river. He made Fatepur Sikri his capital city. Akbar with his cavalry

It has all the usual courtyards, mosques, meeting halls, private and public audience halls, wives’ quarters and also the white marble tomb of the Sufi saint, Salim Chisti. You have to take off your shoes to go in and cover your head. Inside there’s the tomb itself and you walk around it to see the fabulous lattice work window screens. Each one is carved in a different pattern. Then somebody asks you for a donation.

Tomb of Sufi saint, Salim Chisti
5308 Fatepur Sikri, India
Laticework in the tomb of the Sufi Saint

The Emperor went to the Saint to ask for a son and heir. The Saint gave his blessing and afterwards Akbar had three sons.

Here we are in one of the rooms

Back in the main part of the fort, one of the courtyards is marked out for a game, our guide said it was a version of Chess, but I heard another guide say it was a version of Ludo. In the center there is a stone dais where the players sat. Servants, dressed in the relevant costumes, acted as board pieces, and stood in place until told where to move by the players .

Here we are without any servants to play with!

Another courtyard called Anup Talao, was devoted to entertainments. There’s a place for the emperor and his guests to sit, a place for officials and windows above where the Emperor’s wives and ladies of the court could watch the entertainments without being seen by the men.

Anup Talao

Musicians sat in the middle and, to ensure that the sound carried to the dancers, entertainers and all of the audience, they poured oil on the water and the sound reflected off this.

We left imagining the wonders and the splendour of the Moghul courts, amazed by their technical know how. Then we came across these lovely pigs.

And somehow the pigs, rootling around in the mud, brought us right down to earth once again.

March 25, 2020 / catherinebwrites


They say you haven’t seen India until you’ve seen the Taj Mahal. I took that with a large grain of salt.

“Seen the pictures.” I thought. “Seen the documentary. Seen the photos of Diana sitting outside looking lonely. Tourist trap.”

How wrong can you be?

We drove from Delhi in a comfortable car provided by Nobel Tours. Agra is 400 km away. We were looking forward to seeing a bit of the Indian countryside. A smog-laden fog veiled Delhi in grey. Never-ending grey suburbs morphed into miles and miles of grey factories. It’s not a picturesque journey.

Our hotel in Agra was the modern, multi-story Hotel Crystal Sarovar*, very swish, lots of bowing and Namaste-ing. A young man showed us up to our room and announced that we had a view of the Taj Mahal from our window. He swooshed back the curtains to reveal a panoramic view of smog-laden fog.

Then we were swooped off to the Agra Fort. Like the Red Fort in Delhi, this is another city within a city. Red sandstone fortifications surround gardens, fountains and white marble pavillions. Also the Hauz-i-Jehangir, a fine, sandstone bath where the Moghul Shahs could bathe.

Hauz-i-Jehangir – a bath tub.

Then it was off to the Taj Mahal. Us and several hundred other tourists, most of them Indian.

Our first glimpse was through the a red sandstone arch. It looked tiny but, that’s an optical illusion, once you go through the arch it looks big. And with that first glimpse of the real thing you forget about the other tourists milling about. It looks ethereal. Like it’s floating on air. It brought tears to my eyes.

No photograph does it justice

And the closer you get to more lovely it becomes. Up close you see the pietra dura, the marble latticework, the minarets, the Arabic calligraphy, all exquisite… trying to describe it can never do it justice. It’s one of those things that you have to see for yourself .

Pietra dura

interior decoration

It’s also a place that made me feel wistful and sad. It was, after all, built as a tomb by Shah Jahan for his favourite wife. The guides make jokes to the women about their husbands doing something equally fabulous for them. And they joke that the husbands would need to be fabulously wealthy to live up to the standard set by the Shah.

Shah Jahan

There’s something about it that puts me in mind of Bollywood movie romances where dashingly handsome young men declare love to stunningly beautiful women. They sing in fields studded with flowers, they dance in splendid palaces, they flirt against backgrounds of beautiful scenery. But that’s not how it is for women in India. The lives of Indian women are very restricted. At best they are seen as second-class citizens.

Mumtaz was Shah Jahan’s favourite wife. That means there were more. In death she inspired him to build the Taj Mahal. I hope he treated her well when she was alive.


I’d recommend this hotel. The rooms would have great views on a clear day. service excellent if a hint formal for my taste. Food was excellent.

March 16, 2020 / catherinebwrites


It looks pretty daunting. It’s a military fort built by the Mughal Emperors. Did I really want to visit a military fort? They say it’s one of the things you must do in Delhi, so, what the heck.

There’s a long walk to the ticket office where there is one queue for men, one for ladies, one for the disabled and one for foreigners. Foreigners pay more to get in but that’s okay. Then there’s a long walk back to the entrance.

As we walked up the ramp to the main gate I saw a guide gathering his group,

“This was the first defence.” he said, “the moat had water and it was filled with snakes and crocodiles.”

I decided to earwig and here’s what I learned.

The second line of defense:

If an enemy succeeded in getting ladders across the crocodile and snake filled moat and started to climb, the Emperor’s army poured oil through the row of openings and set the oil on fire.

The third line of defense:

The Emperor’s archers shot a deluge of arrows on you through the openings at the next level. If you still got through, fair dues.

Fourth line of defense:

You found yourself in a corridor populated by lions, tigers and leopards. That worked a treat till the British arrived and blasted their way in with canon… the rest is the story of Empire.

Once through the main gate there was an avenue of shops full of colourful jewelry, paintings, pashminas, carvings and all the shiny fecky-las that attract tourists. Outside each shop stood a watchful man, waiting to catch your curious eye and invite you inside to buy.

“Very cheap, fixed price.” they smiled.

Beyond the shops I was expecting a barracks and flagstone squares designed for soldiers to march and practise drills. Instead we discovered lawns, avenues of trees, gardens, fountains, pavilions, a harem, a mosque and several small museums. And the area covered was enormous. There were military quarters somewhere but what we saw was obviously the place where Mughal emperors, their wives, families and courtiers lived, ruled and entertained in the grandest of style.

One of the buildings had a museum of portraits of upper class Indians of the past, wearing the most fabulous gear.

Most of the visitors we saw were Indian families out for the day. Many of them also wearing fabulous gear. Not draped in jewels and gold like the Maharajahs in the portraits but equally colourful.

Even the babies wore make up and dazzling colour!

March 12, 2020 / catherinebwrites


We went back to Delhi. This time it didn’t seem as difficult as it had on day one. I began to notice things. I realised that whole streets are devoted to shops selling the same kind of goods electrical appliances, clothing etc. Our Hotel* was in a backstreet, off a back street, close to the workshops that made and sold statues of gods and goddesseses, memorial statues of family members and images of famous Indians.

Outside the shops you’d often see a young man sanding down the plaster on a new piece, while, in the depths of the shop, an older man, possibly the owner, caught you looking and attempted to induce you to buy.

But even if I’d wanted them I couldn’t carry them under my arm as I boarded my flight!

Now that we felt better able to gird our loins and sightsee, we decided to visit the Hanuman temple. Hanuman is the monkey god, a figure of strength, perseverance and devotion. When Sita, wife of Lord Rama, was kidnapped, Hanuman helped find her. And, to judge by the number of images you see in hotels, homes, shops, cars, and tuk-tuks, he seems very popular.

Hanuman Temple (Hanuman Mandir)

The temple is under this huge statue and you have to take off your shoes before entering, take them off while you’re still on the street. As I mentioned earlier, the streets are splattered with who-knows-what and wandering cows, dogs, and goats are not known for their personal hygiene! There was a young man standing on the street who, for a few pence, makes sure your shoes aren’t stolen. I took off my shoes, took a deep breath and hoped that any germs I picked up crossing the pavement wouldn’t be fatal.

The entrance to the temple is up steps designed to look like the inside of a monkey’s mouth.

Once inside there are several altars each more exotic looking than the next. and while we were trying to decide which way to go, we were set upon by a priest who put an orange mark on our forehead, took us to his altar and indicated that we should donate money.

Instantly another priest captured us took us to his altar and intoned an interminable prayer and wrapped an orange thread round our wrist. He too expected money.

In the background a man sat singing and playing a harmonium. Another man sat with a bucket of water washing down a larger than life-size statue of Hanuman.

For exotica it’s the place to go.

Back on the street with my shoes and socks safely on again I couldn’t wait to get back toour hotel an scrub my feet clean. However, while we probably picked up all kinds of germs none of them made us sick and none of them killed us. Maybe we’re just over-protected western wusses.

  • Hotel Ritz 8567 Arakashan Road, Paharganj Behind Shiela Cinema, Paharganj, 110055 New Delhi, India  HIGHLY RECCOMMENDED Lovely helpful staff, very reasonable, great food.
March 5, 2020 / catherinebwrites


This is Ram Milan. He was our driver in the Tiger reservation. He is named after Lord Rama, the ledgendary prince sent by the gods to show men how to behave.

In the story, Lord Rama, his wife Sita and his brother Lakshman were exiled from his kingdom for fourteen years. During that time they lived in the forest. And where was that forest? Bandhavgarh, the very place where we were. An Indian tourist told us that she had actually seen the footprint of Lord Rama the previous day in this forest.

Driving in the forest on the unpaved roads, demands skill. It is full of bumps and gullies. Ram avoided as many bumps as possible and we felt totally safe with his driving.

In Bandhavgarh you have to take a Forest Service guide with you. Ram’s knowledge of the flora and fauna was often better than that of the guides. and when he realised that we were interested in more than just tigers, he took great delight in poiting out animals and birds that we would have otherwise missed. He has “forest eyes” and can, drive, listen for alarm calls and spot leopard tracks all at the same time!

Sambal deer. This animal is endangered
Adjudtant bird

At then end of our stay Ram intorduced us to his wife and son.

What an honour!

March 2, 2020 / catherinebwrites



If you’ve ever seen a BBC programme about tigers, it was probably in Bandhavghar*. The area used to belong to a Maharajah who, with his wealthy friends rode elephants into the forest to hunt tigers. Now it’s a conservation area and you need a permit to go in. We kept reminding ourselves that we might NOT see a tiger but we’d definitely see lots of other interesting wild life.

We were up at 5.30 that first morning. It was bitterly cold as we climbed into the open jeep. Yikes! However, our hotel** provided us with hot water bottles and blankets and off we set.

The first animal we saw was an elephant, a captured wild elephant which was being trained to work for the forest service. The forest rangers use them to check for wounded animals, paths that need repair, vegetation that threatens to take over and, of course, poachers.

We saw spotted dear by the cartload. They are incredibly pretty and…

…they hang around with Hanuman monkeys. The monkeys too are pretty, especially if you see them against the light with their silver coats glowing like auras.

These animals stay together to help one another. When the deer scent a tiger, they bark an alarm. But, if the wind is blowing in the other direction, the monkeys up in the trees can see the tiger and call the alarm. And not only that, the monkeys feed the deer! They tear leaves from high in a tree where the deer cannot reach and throw them down for the deer to eat. We saw it happen.

Then there’s the peacocks. They’re all over the place. You get blase about them!

We saw tiger paw prints and we saw tiger droppings. We heard deer bark alarm calls and heard tiger growls but not a even a glimpse of the tiger itself. Oh well.

We set out again that afternoon. We saw plenty of deer, monkeys, peacocks, and variety of birds. We stopped to listen for alarm calls. We drove to places tigers frequented then suddenly, we rounded a corner and saw two elephants crossing the jungle path with park Rangers guiding them through the trees. Ahead there was another jeep and the driver was signalling that there was a tiger close by.

We pulled up and waited and then a huge male tiger ambled slowly out of the bush and crossed the path. Wow! And a minute or so later two more tigers emerged, glanced around at the gathered jeeps and and sashayed off into the trees.

I cried tears of joy. Seeing these magnificent beasts in their natural setting does something to you. It seems to expand your whole being.

Ram Milan, our driver, revved up the jeep and started a race through the jungle. We held on for dear life. He knew where the tigers were were likely to go. By this time there were about fifteen jeeps in the race. When any jeep spots a tiger, the driver and guide let all the other jeeps know the location.

The three tigers we’d seen were brothers who were just on the point of leaving their mother to find their own range. Young tigers like following elephants, they’re intrigued by the swish of the elephants’ tails. They even play with them just like your pet cat at home will swat at anything dangling.

We pulled up near a clearing beside a wadi. The jeeps were jockying for the best positions but Ram Milan kew what he was doing. The elephants arrived.

And, several minutes later, the tigers ambled into view. They disappeared in the grass and re-appeared at the water-hole. They lay about and snoozed and stretched and we watched and watched and watched.

Wasn’t it William Blake who wrote,

Tiger,Tiger burning bright
In the forests of the night

Clearly, he’d only ever seen one in a Zoo. They sure do burn bright in sunlight, in the open, vivid orange and yellow and black. But, once they step into the trees or the long grass, they disappear. When it comes to camouflage, Nature knows what it’s doing.


The Holidays (Unit of Indus Excursion)

Head Off.: C-3, Kachnar City, Jabalpur, Madhya Pradesh, India



Aranyak Resort, Tala



February 27, 2020 / catherinebwrites



Family day out

The India Gate monument is in the middle of a park and it is enormous. It was designed by Lutyens to commemorate the Indian soldiers who died fighting for Britain in the first World War.

After five minutes or so we realised we were not being hassled. Wow, the relief! People did ask to take photos with us but, as they weren’t selling anything, or offering to take us to markets, we were happy to stand in the middle of Indian Mammies, Daddies and children and grin .

The park was full of family groups having picnics. Families out for a breath of fresh air with their grannies and children. There were lads selling bottles of water, lads selling chai. Men selling gee-gaws and food and baloons. But no hassle, no hassle at all.

It turns out that all the parks in Delhi are hassle-free. Not only that but they is no sign of the rubbish which is evident everywhere else. So, each time we returned to the capital, we retired to a park when we needed break from the crowds. And each park has it’s own particular vibe.


Canoodling Central

Mantar Jantar is what they say in Hindi for Abracadabra.

In the early 1700s a Maharaja with time on his hands, was interested in astronomy and astrology. He had these structures built to tell the time, and to predict the movements of the sun, moon and planets. And it works. There’s another in Jaipur which is even bigger and better. India, of course, has produced noted mathematicians and astronomers since Adam was in the Highlanders.

But nowadays, Mantar Jantar is where young couples come to cannodle. I can think of no other word for what I saw.

Young couples sat in the window sills at the rear of this circular instrument stroking one another’s hair, nuzzling, giggling, and feeding one another pieces of fruit.

Elsewhere, tiny squirrels with black and white stripes down their backs ran about looking for food, and raced up and down trees. Ocasionally they jumped at one another or ran around chasing their tails.


For your high class photos

Lodi gardens were created by an English Memsahib in 1936. She had two villages cleared to create it. What happened the villagers? Who knows?

Mukul Banerjee Photography / Getty Images

It has several 15th-century Mughal monuments. This is the place to go to have your classy portrait photos shot. Wedding? Anniversary? First baby? Dress up to the nines and go along to the Lodi Gardens with your professional photographer and director of photography and clickety click.

There were also several young men throwing Bollywoodshapes while their friends photographed them. One young fellow, sat in the doorway of one of the buildings apparently saluting the sky. But no, he was saluting a drone which hovered at eye level filming him.


Tick Tock Central

Right in the centre of Connaght Place, surrounded by three circles of traffic, there’s a park with lots of people. Business people having a lunchtime stroll, students sitting in groups listening to somebody giving a talk or school children practising a song. Groups of girls sitting together. Boys photographing themselves but, at the centre of all of this activity is the Tick-Tock gang.

Crowds of young people, mostly young men, gather round a blue painted concrete channel to watch others shoot mini videos for Tick Tock – it’s a YouTube thing.

A lad in a snazzy jacket and huge sunglasses pretends to knock other lads down with film punches. A lad in a snazzy shirt dons goggles and sashays towards the camera with a fierce experession. A girl in a colourful sari dances and sings. When one is done another takes their place and so it goes on. Pretend punches seem to be the favourite of the lads. We only saw the one girl. Girls do upload to Tick Tock but they seem to film themselves at home.

Whenever we passed young guys photographing themselves we called “Bollywood stars!” to them.

They loved it!

February 24, 2020 / catherinebwrites


Jet Lag was easing and Culture Shock ebbing. We’d seen the Sikh Temple it on the way from the airport. It looked interesting, we decided to chance it . Still not ready for another wild Tuk-tuk ride , we grabbed the first taximan we saw. He was a Sikh and he couldn’t wait to show us his temple.

Sikh’s are the ones who wear the turbans. They are a branch of Hinduism who choose service to others as part of their practice. If you need help, their colourful turbans are easy to spot on the street. Ask a Sikh for help and they’ll give it. That’s the men. I’m sure the women would help you too but, there’s no way to identify them on the street. Decent women are not seen much on the street in India

You take off your shoes before going in to the temple. And cover your head. Our Sikh herded us into the shoe room. He put our shoes in a locker. He procured tiny orange scarves and tied them on our heads. We looked like bad attempts at pirates.

He demonstrated how the marble of the courtyards was cool on in summer and warm in winter. He frog-marched us into the shrine, no photos allowed, and pointed out the pillars and arches surrounding the altar. They were covered in gold. Sheets of solid, embossed gold. Sikhs donate a percentage of income to the temple and this was a very rich temple.

He pointed out flowers and candles, images of gods. Worshippers offering prayers. Worshippers sitting on the carpet in the body of the temple. Worshippers offering incense and money. Scented smoke wafted about. A group of musicians played indian instruments and chanted texts from the Vedas. It was all stragely moving.

He brought us to see the gold-framed, glass-walled room where the musicians slept. A huge red velvet bed took upmost of the space and the curtains inside were pulled across when they slept. Worshippers knelt and touched their heads to the ground before this strange space. Then our Sikh offered us a treat. A trip to the temple kitichens.

Sikh temples feed hundreds of people every day. Anyone can line up in the hall and get food, no questions asked. Sikh men and women volunteer to prepare, cook and serve the food. Our Sikh brought us to see men and women, sitting on the floor, peeling potatoes and chopping cauliflowers. Men stirring huge vats of dahl over naked flames. Women making chapatis. He insisted we stir the pots and roll the dough while he took photos.

I feared for my toes but they survived .

Next off to the huge pool where people bathed. But it was winter so no swimmers, but lots of reflections.

Time to leave and our Sikh helped us back into our shoes, took the orange scarves and returned them to a temple volunteer. We planned to go back to the hotel but our Sikh inisited that we had to see India Gate.

Every driver in Delhi fancies himself as a tour guide.

February 18, 2020 / catherinebwrites


The buffet breakfast in our hotel had the usual, omlettes, croissants, juice and several steaming cauldrons of who-knows-what. Sir, who is much more adventurous with food than I am, sampled the cauldrons and declared them delicious. I stuck to conservative fare.

Then a waiter brought an intriguing dish to the next table where two Indian ladies were having breakfast. A hoop of crispy pancake with something inside and little dishes withsauces.

“What are they?” we asked.

He waxed lyrical.

“Dhosa. Dish from South India, delicious. You must try it . I will get for you.”

And off he shot.

He returned with finest, thinnest, most translucent pancakes you’ve ever seen. They were stuffed with lightly spiced onion and potato and had several dips of varying degrees of hotnesson the side plus a bowl of dhal. Yum, double yum, yum, yum yum.

We fell in love with the Dhosa. Our guide Book mentioned Hotel Saravana Bhavan. Remember that name if you’re in Delhi. The guide book gave it high praise. Here’s the address, 46, Janpath. It’s opposite the Tibetan Market.

When you rock up there will be a queue. But don’t worry. It’s huge inside and has a quick turnover. Give your name to the doorman and enjoy people watching till he calls you.

Inside the decor is shades of brown, the floor, the walls, the tables, even the staff uniforms. No interior designers were injured during the creation of this look. The tables are bare, the cultery basic. You may have to share a table but Indians love to chat, ask where you’re from, tell you what’s good to eat and drink, give cooking advice or tell you about the city.

The waiting staff is not surly exactly, more,

“Come on, tell me what you want and let’s get on with it.”

The menus are tatty and stained… but the food, Oh-My-God, the food, it’s delicious. And costs half nothing. You could eat yourself to a standstill for under a fiver. We returned another day and were not disappointed.

Toying with the notion of cooking Dhosa at home, I checked out recipes on line. Then my eye caught the words “fermentation process” and I thought , “Too complicated for me.”

Maybe there’s an Indian restaurant close to home that will do me a decent Dhosa. Let me know if you know one.

February 14, 2020 / catherinebwrites


We took a deep breath and ventured out again. We’d go to a shopping mall mentioned in the guide book. A place we could look around unmolested, finger the silk, admire exotic saris, have a coffee.

We took the first tuk-tuk driver who approached us. Agreed a price – we’re not idiots – and got in.

close up of man driving tuk tuk

“Delhi Helicopter.” he shouted over his shouder as he revved up.

Our laughter was choked when he made a sudden U turn through four lanes of traffic. Through traffic so dense I couldn’t look at it. He shimmied past motor bikes, tooting his horn, squeezed bewteen lorries, beat a van to a roundabout. Everyone also tooted their horn Or rang their bell or hooted their hooter. Engines revved, smoke belched. He steamed up the wrong side of the road. I clutched the bar of the frame for dear life, spluttering and gasping,

“Oh my God” “Oh Jesus Christ.” “Oh my God, Oh my God, Oh my God,” “*&^%$£”!.” “*&^%$£”! , *&^%$£”!, *&^%$£”! , *&^%$£”

“Calm down,” says Sir, sitting beside me, “there’s nothing we can do, they know what they’re doing.”

I closed my eyes and grabbed his hand.

“Shopping Mall”, we discovered, was a euphemism.

An hour later we staggered out , frazzled by salesmen pitching silks and carpets and jewels and spices and carvings of gods and godessess, and paintings of elephants and camels and horses and peacocks. Daylight at last, we could breathe. The air tasted gritty. Our tuk-tuk driver was waiting. Once more into the breach!

This time I looked at the traffic, what I could see of it. We were walled in by tuk-tuks, cars, motor bikes, rickshaws, hand-carts, pedestrians, cows, dogs and bicycles, all blaring hooters and horns and bells. And shifting like maggotts in a pile. If the tiniest space opened up someone wriggled into it. I began to wonder if Delhi vehicles could expand and contract at will.

A raggedy camel caused gridlock. It was hauling a dray piled with sacks, and trying to turn into a side street, when it got stuck. A horse and cart sneaked around causing more of a jam. Cars, vans, tuk-tuks, all of the above, crammed up behind. Nobody could move.

They stopped blowing their horns They turned off their engines and waited. No yelling, no cursing . Not happy exactly, but patient. People chatted about the problems of Delhi traffic. Men got out of cars and tried to work out solutions but failed.

A grubby child did cartwheels between the cars and leaped into forward rolls. His sister shook a can at us. We’d be warned not to give money to beggars as it only attracts many more to try their luck. We stiffen our upper lips and feel guilty.

A man then appeared from the side street and did a lot of waving. Other men joined him nudging cars and lorries and animals forward, shouting directions, waving tuk-tuks to available crevices and, in a very few minutes, we were moving again.

I began to realise that what looks insane to our eyes has it’s own logic. The horn blowing is not,

“Get out of my way you stupid bastard.” It’s more

“Hey there, I’m just behind to your right.”

Vans and buses and tuk-tuls have “Blow horn” written at the back. We saw no accidents. Everyone stops for a red light. They let pedestrians cross. They don’t bother the cows or the dogs or each other.

Back at the hotel I had to lie down once again.

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