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India, but not at The Oval

“I remember a pretty young thing, I took her to see India…at The Oval. She’s still got my wallet” said the Major in an episode of Fawlty Towers, and I suppose in some ways that is a metaphor for my first trip to India, accompanied by That Nice Lady Decorator.

Everybody says India is an assault on the senses and the trip from Delhi airport to the Taj Ambassador Hotel in New Delhi gave us an immediate confirmation. The colours, the people, the noise and the madness, especially on the roads is unique in my experience.  Driving seems to be an elaborate game to avoid giving way to anyone whatever the rights and wrongs of driving etiquette, four to a motor cycle, none wearing helmets, tuk tuks driving the wrong way up one way streets, pedestrians running this grisly gauntlet, and everybody interminably with  hand on horn (if you will excuse the expression). Great fun when you know how to play the game, terrifying when you first experience it.  I shall never drive on Indian roads.

Our tuk tuk called Sara

New Delhi is a great city and Lohdi Gardens exquisite but the sheer excellence, service and attention to detail at our next stop, Sher Bagh, the tented village right by the tiger reserve at Rambhamthore National Park,  to which we were whisked was awesome and is, I have to say, the best place I have ever stayed. The campfire at night, the tiger spotted walking through the camp at 7am, the pool, the food were all sensational. The same could also be said for my extras bill (which is where the metaphor kicks in) at 82,000 rupees, around £1000 at today’s excellent Currencies Direct exchange rate. They still have my wallet…

Getting there from New Delhi was an experience. I had always hankered after a trip on an Indian train. The glories of the Raj, white linen tablecloths, antimacassars on the back of the seats, waiters in smart turbans and white gloves and large pink gins to while away the time gazing at the glory of India as we passed. The reality was about as far away as you imagine. I am still too traumatised to think about it let alone write about it. When I think of the toilets… no I can’t go there and luckily I had to only once. And we were in first class.

But we saw tigers, and close up as 2 crossed the road in front of us. We were lucky, many in our party saw none.

A tiger cub takes a dip after walking across the road in front of our jeep

Then on to Jaipur, the so called pink city but a bit too ochre for me, although we did spend a delightful couple of hours at the Polo Club bar at the fabulous Rambagh Palace hotel. Onwards to the blue city of Jodphur  and a visit to the spectacular Merangarh Fort before a 3 day stay at the Serai Desert Camp for a birthday celebration in style for the lovely Lesley Anne Rowley, complete with whirling dervishes, a wonderful band of local musician.  Earlier we took a trip to Jaisalmer, another exceptional Fort, where I was lucky enough to find the High Commissioners son, one James Asquith, to carry my bags. Charming lad, but the camp rules preclude tipping so I was unable to pass on Peachy Butterfield’s tip not to boil your woollens.

Moustache Wars

Part of the desert experience inevitably involves camels and so it came to pass that a camel ride over the dunes at sunset was organised.

Camilla the camel

My camel, Camilla (perhaps chlamydia would have been more apt given some of her symptoms,  the details into which I don’t care to go), was deliberately trying to chuck me off. At least that what it seemed like and I have resolved never to partake of that treat ever again. The gathered caravan of the humped beasts and their riders was however a spectacular sight at sunset. Later, one of our party fell down a particularly steep dune and I idly wondered that if we had used a rope around a camel to pull her back up, could that have been described as a “camel tow”?

Chris France

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