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Where to begin?
So …….. here I am. Back in Brighton and enjoying the filthy weather outside (not). And now it’s time to try and blog my experience – Argh! I can’t decide whether it’s the fact that my writing is so crap or the fact that perhaps words – any words – will be fairly ineffectual in my efforts to portray my ten days in Rajasthan but I’ll go with the latter, simply because it makes me feel better.
I’m unsure whether my blogging will also suffer as a consequence of not having been able to update at regular intervals but with the lack of anything more technical than a cow’s backside to plug anything into, blogging was out of the question. I did take notes. Honest. I did. But note-taking was difficult while cycling, I found. And on a bus in India it was akin to writing a Christmas card whilst white-water rafting. I even wrote some of my notes in pitch black, when the only light available was from my phone but the battery sadly died all too soon and … see above!
I’m undecided whether to try and write a day-to-day account, or simply attempt an overall picture of thoughts, feelings, impressions, images. And the group dynamics? Do they matter? Are they relevant?
Judging by the first three paragraphs, things are not looking too good, eh? Ah well … I think you’ll just have to bear with me. I’ll go with Day-to-Day but me being me you’ll undoubtedly get a lot of rambling as well. After all, this is India through MY eyes – not a guide book, two entirely different things. And besides, I’m of firm belief that the only guide book truly worth writing would be one that directed me to a working toilet (and I left the country without finding one so I have doubts that it would make the bestseller list).
Let’s start instead with an overview of the food – always a favourite topic of mine. I don’t think I need do any more than type out the alternative words to this well-known song which I wrote and performed on the last day of our trip, with the help of two wonderful cyclists who I shared a lot of laughs with. So – from me, Alison and Lisa – and to the tune of “The Twelve Days of Christmas” …
On the first day of cycling the team of 84 … had curry for breakfast, lunch and tea!
On the second day of cycling the team of 84 had two bowls of rice and curry for breakfast, lunch and tea
On the third day of cycling the team …….. had three Delhi bellies, two bowls of rice and curry for breakfast, lunch and tea (you get the gist)
Fourth day: four lentil dhals
Fifth day: five Ciproxin
Sixth day: six aloo gobis
Seventh day: seven ripe bananas
Eighth day: eight tasty omelettes
Ninth day: nine warm chapattis
Tenth day: ten poppadoms
Yep! That about sums it up, except that I didn’t suffer from Delhi belly (thank you Travelguard – I’d take you anywhere!) and as such was spared the Ciproxin.
Oh – and the dhal? I was sooooooooooooooo disappointed in the dhal. Watery and bland – and I’d been planning to live on it! In fact, all the curries were quite mild. I’ve yet to double-check whether our chefs were holding back in favour of a European palate (what happened to Vindaloo and chips?) or whether the mild spices were very much regional. Otherwise, the food was fantastic. We had a team of chefs with us who zoomed ahead of us each day and set up the most amazing array of on-site freshly cooked meals (a choice of 7 or 8 dishes each time!), all served up buffet-style, hot, delicious and complete with poppadoms, naans, teas, coffees and desserts. Hats off to those boys, who were truly amazing!
So …
In Agra. Noise, noise, noise – but that’s not just Agra. That’s India. Hooting, honking, beeping cars, trucks, lorries and motorbikes, motorbikes, motorbikes. Neverending, day or night.Little purpose in all the racket other than that it seems to be in the genes! Driving is amazing. No lanes on the roads; if there’s no room on the road, the pavement will do – and if there’s no room on the pavement, well the other side of the road seems to be equally tempting, regardless of oncoming traffic. The idea is to inch a centimetre ahead (yep! Imperial or metric, take your pick!) and then you have right of way. Unless, of course, the other guy’s bigger! Amazingly, though, the entire system seems to work perfectly well. I never saw a single accident. Marvellous for the tourist driving home completely legless from a party – hazardous motoring skills would definitely go unnoticed.
I went to the Taj Mahal this morning. I never thought I’d be typing that – and neither was it disappointing. It’s every bit as magnificent as it looks on the postcards. I was a little confused at first (ok, ok, no surprise there …) as to why ‘polluted vehicles’ (tuc-tucs, cars, etc.) were not allowed near it. You have to disembark some way away and take battery-operated tuc-tucs up to the gates. To me, in terms of pollution avoidance, this was a bit like closing the window of your beach hotel to stop the sea air getting in! But it wasn’t about air pollution, rather noise. To preserve serenity around this wonderful tomb is a feat in itself and undoubtedly adds to the whole impression of the building and its surroundings. There is something magnetically beautiful about this building. It’s that type of special view that you could sit and look at all day and never tire of it. It transports to a dozen different places. Rather like they say the most beautiful women have a very particular symmetry to their facial features, the Taj Mahal (which means ‘Most Beautiful Woman’, in loose terms) is also perfectly symmetrical – and full of the most fantastic optical illusions. The 4 pinnacles around it, for example, are NOT straight, but angled outwards at 5 degrees, to ensure that in the event of an earthquake they would not collapse on the tomb. The decoratively ‘angled’ sides and corners of the doorways are not angled at all, but completely flat (but you actually have to put on your hand on them to believe it!). The script of the Koran adorning the front of the tomb is NOT all the same size, patterns are not painted but rather inset with precious stones, and if you think people might behave civilly while trying to enter the door of the mausoleum, that is also an illusion. The Indians, I’m afraid, do not understand queues and mutate into savages, elbows, teeth, the lot, when anything like a queue stands before them. Alas, it didn’t take me long to learn the ropes and yes, I DID get inside!!
Note, this ‘learning experience’ came in handy on many occasions throughout the trip. As I recall, I even barred the door one day from an Indian ‘lady’ (for want of a better word) who, true to form, was queue-jumping. Now, we all know that the English – let’s face it – are pretty anal about queueing, but this was too much. I braced myself, refused to let her in, had a two minute physical battle and – yay – my cycling colleague soon caught on and slipped in behind me – in her rightful place in the queue. Ha! A menial, pathetic and minor battle won. Felt GREAT!
Lunch was back at the hotel, then bike-fitting. The organisation of this was fabulous – mechanics galore and I had my bike with saddle done, gears checked and all ready in about ten minutes – which meant I had time for a swim in the pool and a head massage! The former was bloody freezing, the latter marvellous. Then I linked up with a small group of ladies and we went off to the Red Fort. This place was immense and, like any building, not easy to describe in words without making it sound boring. Its main features were pillars of Muslim architecture around the bottom and Hindu architecture around the top, which were quite symbolic – and of course the rooms where the Shah Jahan was imprisoned by his son and from where he spent the remainder of his life looking out over his wife’s tomb – the Taj Mahal. Other than that – it’s a fort. It’s red. It’s big. And there were other things on my mind, like the challenge ahead.
Yep! Had to laugh at this – just not for the faint of heart! Lovely lad in the hotel toilets looking after your every need. Toilets were pretty spotless, by the way, in this particular hotel – on the surface, at least. In fact, if it hadn’t been for the queues it might have gone unnoticed that the lovely laddie was leaping in and out of the toilets wiping the seats clean with … wait for it … THE SAME CLOTH that he was then using to wipe the sinks, the taps, the mirrors, the counter ….
You gotta laugh. You just gotta laugh!
Hats off also to the group of 4 who stayed behind after dinner to ‘finish off the wine’ (gee – I wonder who could have been in that group, eh????)? And spotted the waiters pouring all the left over wine from glasses back into the bottles. Note to selves (?): Make sure wine is opened at the table from now on!
Further note to self: Indian rum = Hangover
Bussed to departure point. The cacophony of sound is just incredible here – no traffic jam can compare. It’s a competition. And the monkeys – Monkeys, monkeys everywhere – until we reached the outskirts of the city. Then it was camels, cows, pigs … anywhere, everywhere. In fact, I think the camels must have been responsible for the city electrics. No human being could possibly have put together the mayhem that was every telegraph pole. My hair was standing on end just looking at them.
Arrival at our departure point was incredible – to see all the bikes standing in rows, all labelled and all personalised with various ribbons and streamers, scarves, teddy bears (LOADS of teddybears – but Rosie was the prettiest by far, of course!) … The Bindi Man (sounds scary, eh?) was waiting for us and we were all blessed before setting off. I had to laugh when I turned around and somebody – truly – said “Oh my God, Amanda, what have you done to your head?” The fact that so many people here really just did not know what was going on around them was something I found personally quite hard to deal with throughout, but perhaps that’s another story and not for here.
Just 74 km today and very flat but I found this a very difficult day. In retrospect, I think it was more of a mental battle than a physical one, although I think today was a great warm-up for legs and a good initial test of stamina. It was exciting, however, and I think my energy was channelled into other things rather than into cycling. There was a lot of pressure about cycling in groups –but which group to cycle with? I tried to stay with friends but soon found that cycling at any pace that’s not your own natural pace is incredibly tiring. We all worked this out eventually but it added to the uncertainties of the first day – and the fear that perhaps I wouldn’t be able to make it. Had I done enough training? Would it all be too much? Would I cope? What would happen if …? What would happen when …? I think the day would have been a lot easier if I’d just got on with the cycling instead of worrying about all the extra stuff.
We stopped every 20 km or so and our ever-faithful team of gurus, as we called them (from a firm called Guru North), were there waiting with gallons of water, orange juice, fruit and packets of peanuts, crisps or biccies (varied day to day).
Most memorable part of Day One was our introduction to the typical Indian village – and its inhabitants. The quality of the ‘roads’ through these villages varied greatly, but they were all narrow – and made narrower by the inhabitants (mostly adult men and very young children) who lined up either side. The men gawped, yelled, occasionally said Good morning and occasionally tried to grab your handlebars, block your path or even knock you off your bike. I was fortunate enough not to encounter much aggression but I know some of the team were hit with sticks, stones and thrown off their bikes and I have to admire them for carrying on and riding through subsequent villages as if nothing had happened. Having said that, the incidences were statistically very few, thanks to a fantastic security team. My own experience of these villages were the hundreds of tiny faces on the tiniest children you’ve ever seen (I think some of them were born walking!!!! LOL), all with the most gleeful faces, little hands reaching out and waving, joy and delight when you waved back – and peels of laughter when you answered in their own language. ‘Hello’ and ‘Good Morning’ echoed from every mouth, every sidestreet, every hill, valley and field. They came up out of the ground, they dropped out of trees and it was unbelievable. You could only throw your head back and laugh and delight in the energy and vitality that came from the smiles and laughter of children who, in our eyes, have truly nothing but in this, their own world, have enough to enable them to share the thrills of greeting these visiting helmet-clad, pale-faced aliens on bicycles. Five days later I could still thrive on this. It never got boring, it never ceased to have a profound effect, it never ceased to make me smile inside and out. These were beautiful, beautiful children living in a whole other world which I would never understand. These were children who I wanted to pick up and take home and feed and clothe – but who’s to say my world is any better? Because I couldn’t bear for my own children to live like that, how could I dare say these children would be any happier elsewhere? I struggled with this throughout – and wondered at the sad fact that under the same circumstances my children would not be able to smile and laugh like that – but rather whine and be ‘bored’ and hungry and dissatisfied. How can one world’s values be better than another, then?
Of course, some of the children were a little more advanced. “You want to touch my penis?” seemed to be a favourite phrase from the older boys. I suppose that’d be Level 2.
The sound of India was altered somewhat today. Amidst the already spoken of cacophony of trucks (usually aiming straight at you – nothing as exciting as a bunch of cyclists to run off the road!) were added cries of BUMP! CAMEL! TRUCK! CAR! BUS! PIG! GOATS! POTHOLE! DOG! and even PERSON! – which echoed from those in the lead and was passed back from group to group, warning those behind of the more ‘unusual’ perils ahead. Unfortunately, I now think all those village children have learned a new word (BUMP) which they believe to be a greeting! I have visions of them waving madly at the next group of crazy Englishmen passing through and yelling “Bump, Bump” as they leap up and down with their toothy grins. This is due to the fact that every village had a serious of speed bumps (i.e. in the bits that had tarmac, at least!) which were invariably and progressively more painful if you happened to ride over them without noticing in time to get out of the saddle! So the cries of ‘Bump’ were welcomed by all – but probably misunderstood by many!
This was my dog day. I was only attacked by two dogs in the whole trip. This was one of them!
My feet ached all day – due to unforgiving cycling shoes. They have no ‘give’ at all – and I think my feet swelled in the heat, too, so I got horrendous cramps. This improved somewhat throughout the week as I changed to very thin socks and left my shoes as ‘open’ as possible. Still – I didn’t bring them home!
Tonight was our first night camping. Tents were great and beds very comfortable. This was also our first day/night without toilets, however. I’ve never known so many conversations about bodily functions. This continued throughout the week – an ongoing theme. I’m very grateful that I had no trouble in this regard after the first day and I still reiterate how amazed I am at the courage of so many people who had horrendous trouble in this department and continued cycling regardless. Hats off to all of them. Also to those who were very, VERY ill – and who also still managed to cycle if and when they could. I had a horrible fear of falling unwell as I’m such a wimp when I’m sick and I know I wouldn’t have been half that brave. Bravo to all!
No Bravo!s to those who weren’t sick, though – and who complained constantly. This was another bugbear of mine at the beginning of the challenge. Fortunately, I managed to ‘put it away’ fairly quickly before it got under my skin and affected my own experience. People complained and complained and whined and complained and I couldn’t understand their attitude. But maybe it was me who was weird. I just couldn’t complain because there was nothing to ‘complain’ about. There was plenty that was unpleasant and awkward and humiliating and uncomfortable but for me these were all things to be embraced. These were all part of the experience, part of the challenge. These were things that made it all so worthwhile – and made the victory so much sweeter!
it was fucking freezing at night!
And I wore THREE sweatshirts sitting around the campfire having dinner, countless rums did nothing to heat me up and I crawled into my sleeping bag wearing EVERYTHING! It worked. Warm and cosy.
91 kms today.
Sore bum. What can I say? Saddle – OUCH!
But feeling much stronger than yesterday. A cold and early start to the day but 57 km by lunchtime. Scenery fantastic and changing every ten minutes – from muddy brown to lush green, vast expanses of flat to hills, mountains and the strangest terrain which I could only describe as flat mogul hills! And spattered intermittently across these hills and fields were simple blobs of the most vivid and exciting colours – the women, in their glorious saris, working in the fields. This was a constant, breathtaking site. Amid the dirt and dust and filth and mud and hardship, here these women appeared in splashes of glorious colour, with ineffable pride in their appearance and turned out such that the majority of Western women would be put to shame. This became my picture of India. A brown canvas, spattered with brilliant and vibrant colours; droplets of melted rainbow fallen from the burning sky. This is my picture.
Tonight we arrived at The General’s palace (don’t ask – he’s just known as The General). He was providing us with all the tents, too. Some of us had rooms at the palace, some were in tents. The tents got the better option, I have to say. Me, I was on a raised floor with a bit of carpet for a mattress. Close enough, anyway. There was an extra treat in store for us, though. On arriving here we discovered a large group of schoolchildren sitting on the lawn. It seems that for every guest at the palace The General awards a uniform to a schoolchild. Today, we each got to present a uniform to one of the children. It was very special. We also got to visit a local school – to which we’d donated a bundle of choice paraphernalia (stationary, books, etc.). Children would board at this school from the age of FOUR!!!! Sad, eh? But I suppose that if it’s a choice of a future for your child, then you’d do it. I’m glad we didn’t get to meet any 4-year-old boarders. I think I would have been a mess. But we met the older children, who were delightful and all wanted our ‘autographs’!!
My best day. I was on a complete rollercoaster today. I’d been dreading it. For some reason I thought this day would be horrendous but I was buzzing and nothing could stop me. I had a complete blast today and the cycle itself was FANTASTIC! – All sorts of terrain – a fast first leg, following by some serious sand, which was loads of fun. The third leg was a long off-road, up hills and down – exhilarating and very exciting. Nice to have to engage brain as well! And the last leg – the one I’d been dreading – one and a half km climb – well – PAH! Since I was invincible at that stage I even got to the top still in second gear and could have done more! Of course, I had the Queen of Hills – Alison – in front of me, so I definitely wasn’t going to give up before she did. She pulled me along, basically – but we did it! And that was important – to me, at least. It was my own little battle and one more conquered.
Today we visited a step well. Now, I distinctly remember thinking “Pfft! Do I really have to give up part of my break to see a wishing well?” I shame myself! I still can’t believe that well. The WOW factor was enough to knock your socks off. In a tiny village, we were told the story of the everlasting water shortages around. Now, this village refused to accept any charity so the solution was to order the building of such a ‘step well’, which would provide water for miles around. We walked through a small doorway and the sight just knocked my socks off. It was like an inverted pyramid – and not too much smaller (well – you know what I mean!). An absolutely immense chasm, ‘stepped’ all down the sides so that whatever level the water was at you could reach it. We had a lot of fun in there.
Today was also Tiger Park day. Unfortunately, there are no tigers left since they have all been poached, but the scenery was unbelievable. Words can’t do it justice so I’m not even going to try. The plan is to introduce two new pairs of breeding tigers back into the park in the next couple of years but I don’t know how that’s going to work. Either they’ll be immediately poached for their value – or locals will shoot them before they kill their livestock which, again, although I’m all for the tigers, is still understandable.
This was my day of personal battles; the hardest day for me. Physically, I can’t complain. I started taking Arnica Day One to prevent bruising, muscle problems, etc. and I know that’s helped me avoid the worst – but today my legs just didn’t really want to turn around and I found it increasingly hard to convince them that they had to. The bus just wasn’t an option. This was the day I had to ride with my head rather than my legs and I can’t tell you a whole lot about it. I spent most of today with my head down in my own little world fighting my own battles and probably upset loads of people along the way because I didn’t talk much, communicate much or interact much – in fact, not at all! Anyway – apologies. It wasn’t intentional. I just had to get on with things my way today.
Today we rode through a ghost town, which was quite ‘haunting’ (‘scuse pun).
Today we also visited the ruins of a palace/royal village with a great story attached. The princess who lived here was interested in the Dark Arts. She sought a Master of Tantrics to instruct her and he built a little house on the hill above the palace. He fell in love with the princess and swore that if she didn’t marry him he would destroy the village. The princess and her courtiers left the palace immediately. That night the entire village was destroyed. No bodies were ever found and to this day no Indian will enter the village gates after dark. The story goes that somebody DID spend a night in there several years ago – and was never seen again (what a surprise!). Anyway – great story – and a fantastic place to visit.
It was only later in the day that I discovered we rode for seven hours between breakfast and lunch today – which could account for some ‘faltering’ in the energy stakes.
Due to my retreat into my own little world today I also found myself cycling on my own at some point after lunch. Now, we were never supposed to cycle on our own and mostly we managed to stick to this but sometimes some of us did get separated from groups for one reason or another. Not to worry, though, since there was always somebody behind and it was only a matter of waiting for the next group to come along. Anyway, as I was plodding along on my lonesome, I had two encounters that were a little more exciting than I’d bargained for and which hastened my retreat to the next cycling group.
My first meeting was with a rather frisky bull. He didn’t like me. I didn’t like him. Worse, I don’t know much about bulls. I know you don’t run from snakes and I know you whistle when bears are around – but what to do with a bull? No idea and it was a little late in the day to be finding out. I decided against a stand-off, since I had no red cape with me. I considered throwing my bike at him and hoping he’d get caught in the spokes or something equally ridiculous. I have no idea what he was considering doing to me as he pranced around in the road in front of me, snorting and having a bit of a tantrum. Happily, he believed my story that my fellow cyclist was far plumper and would make for lots more fun and I was allowed to pass to the lush pastures beyond. Something like that, anyway.
So, with adrenalin already pumping and just recovering from my lack of knowledge of things animal, my next encounter was of the LONE CYCLIST v. JEEP FULL OF WANKERS variety (sorry). So … I saw the jeep come over the hill and the jeep saw me. It drove to the opposite side of the road from me, then turned diagonally, directly towards me and came straight for me, the sole intent to run me off the road. This wasn’t a time for indecision. I came straight off the road and was quite happy with that – until the idiots screeched to a halt 20 yards beyond me. Quick thinking. “Never play the victim,” we’d been told, again and again. “Never play the victim.” That was all I could think of, so without giving them a chance to get out of the jeep I did my best performance of the week. I turned around to face them, flung my bike to the ground with as much conviction (hopefully) as I could muster, then started marching towards them, fists shaking and screaming a load of absolute and utter rubbish which I hoped they’d interpret as menacing rather than the ‘Oh my God I’m going to die’ that I was feeling.
They left.
And me? I stayed and waited for the next group – and had the laugh of a lifetime as one by one the entire group of about seven cyclists …
Guess what?
(note to reader: please engage voice of incredulity): They all went sailing past me! All of them! Never even acknowledged my existence. Didn’t ask if I was OK, if I needed help, if anyone was with me … Nope. Nothing. Completely invisible.
As I said before … you gotta larf. You just gotta larf.
So I did.
And I cycled on to the next stop – alone!
This was a surprisingly tough day, too. I don’t know why. Perhaps because I expected to be bursting with energy and sparkle as it was the last day – and it was going to be a short one, too. It didn’t work out like that. Unsurprisingly, I suppose, I was just exhausted – and with the end in sight I started giving in to it instead of (what I should have done and what I’ve learned from kickboxing) adding on an extra day and focussing ‘beyond’ the final target.
To be honest, I can’t remember much of the cycle today. I was struggling again and just waiting for every corner to be the last. It came – eventually. The big ‘re-grouping’. It was nicely done but an odd moment – a lot of mixed emotions. Do I want it to end? Do I not want it to end? What now? What’s next? A void ahead – new plans in mind but not yet taking form … Wanting to go home and dying to share the experience but not sure how … the end of months of training, fund-raising, excitement, trepidation, hard work …
Hard to describe the thoughts going through my mind – and everybody was reacting differently. For some it was truly momentous, for others more like a dream.
We regrouped, then cycled the final half-kilometre all together, turned in and cycled under the banner. It was over in a split second. It was very strange. I think I’m still waiting for it to sink in. As soon as it was over it seemed that it had never happened.
Totally weird.
Off the bikes and a lot of tears and celebrations. More bindis, more flowers (which I had to take off immediately – a gesture not really in the spirit of things, but they started to make me sneeze!!!), and champagne. Very nice champagne it was, too.
The only pity was that the group who had trained together didn’t finish as a group. There was certainly a divide over the cycling days – understandably. People were cycling at different speeds, people were making news friends (and perhaps even losing others) – it was all very normal and very human (have to say I LOVED the dynamics of what was going on) – but it was a shame not to finish as we started. A little thing – but a pity nonetheless.
Me? I sat for some time on my own, ate on my own and … well … eventually headed for the bar and a celebratory gin and tonic and went in search of laughter, which was never far away with the likes of Terri, Dawn or Ali around. Oh – don’t get me wrong. I said I was on my own – but I wasn’t alone! I think that no matter how many people were around, at that moment every single one of us was on her own, celebrating her own private victory with her own thoughts. And many, perhaps, grieving for reasons that had brought them here in the first place. The team of 84 cyclists had reached the winning post together – but a team of 84 ‘individuals’ were celebrating. The ‘together’ bit would come later. That’s how I saw it, anyway.
Either way, mission complete.
Two hours later we were on the bus to our hotel in Jaipur. What can I say? A toilet that flushed (sort of). A bath with hot water. I could ask for no more. I’d found Heaven.
No time to dream … things to do, places to see. Up early and back on the road to drive through the Pink City (the colour hospitality) and visit the most amazing observatory. The sun dials stand at 27 degrees (position of Jaipur in relation to the equator) and can tell the time to within exactly 20 seconds! (and yes – it was absolutely spot on!). I won’t (not to say ‘can’t’) explain the intricacies of the rest but there is a whole ‘system with a purpose’ built here by some very sad and super-intelligent man who had nothing better to do than work out a way to tell the signs of the Zodiac. It’s just beyond me. Having said that – he was a bloody genius. And this is how it works (kind of):
You give birth and race to the observatory to find out exactly what time your child was born. From the time you go to the next ‘dial’ to determine the zodiac sign. From there you go to the specific dial built for your child’s zodiac sign (different sundial for each one) and there you can find out the degrees of … wait for it … something or other (‘cause I’m getting lost now!). HOWEVER … with that information, you then trot across to the other strange hanging objects and with all the information gathered you can calculate whatever it is you need to calculate before looking through a tiny telescope-like object to find – (drum roll and big TA-DA) – your child’s CONSTELLATION!!! And – whoopee-doo, with that, you can find out whether the poor sod is going to have a life worth living or not (I mean – would you REALLY want to know?)
So – now you have all the technical information you’ll ever need to know about sundials and observatories …
Let me introduce you to the Amber Fort. Now, to me ‘a fort is a fort is a fort’ (how many can you see and still be fascinated?) so I’ll just tell you the bits that I found interesting:
The Maharaja had 12 ‘official’ wives (those who lived in the fort and who were allowed to sit on the carpet with him in public – Yippee!). Part of the fort was a square of twelve rooms, each with a private entrance so ‘your man’ could sneak into each one privately. The architecture was such that the rooms were all perfectly ventilated – this was amazing. As soon as you stepped into one of the bedrooms you could feel a breeze. In the official court, the walls and ceiling are mirrored, but not simply for decoration. In winter they would light candles here; the candlelight reflected off the mirrors, absorbed the light and generated heat. Pretty amazing, really. Anything else was just … well … ‘fort’ stuff.
That was it for the morning in Jaipur. After that was a 6-hour bus ride to Delhi. Ours was DEFINITELY the bus to be on. We laughed loads. I swear I lost weight trying to teach Alison how to do Sudoku, following which we did several quizzes from Ali’s puzzle book – losing billions of points if you didn’t ‘buzz’ to her satisfaction. We had singing – and we even came up with 117 ALTERNATIVE USES FOR PADDED KNICKERS. Yep! The scenery was that interesting!
There was an option to go shopping or sight-seeing. I was tired and ready to go home. I could have done without today – it was unnecessary, really. I didn’t come to shop – I came to do a challenge. I completed it and wanted out. Exhausted.
But I certainly wasn’t going to come all this way just to go shopping, either, so I opted for the sight-seeing, although I will admit to this being on condition that there weren’t any more forts on the agenda. I’d had it with forts.
The TOWER was great. I really enjoyed that visit. I don’t know what it was called (I’ll look it up). It is five storeys high – currently. It was seven storeys high originally but two were destroyed by lightning. Wotzisface built it to channel his prayers up to heaven – or something to that effect. No disrespect or anything but I swear I just could not tune in to some of these guides and they might as well have been talking in Hindi. So I filled in a lot of stuff myself.
On that subject – a little aside. Somebody asked me yesterday if I’d done a lot of soul-searching while I was away. The answer is no. I’m far too shallow for that. I did, however, discover that I’m frighteningly scary at bull-shitting. You know, I found myself answering people’s questions sometimes and giving these lengthy informative answers and I HONESTLY DIDN’T HAVE A BLOODY CLUE WHAT I WAS TALKING ABOUT. Really! It was amazing. After about two days, I found myself qualifying everything I said with ‘But I could have just made that all up, so if I were you I’d probably check with someone else …’ It was funny, actually, but yes, scary. I think it’s probably a question of control. I need to know stuff. Out of my comfort zone I still needed to feel in control, so if there were gaps I filled them in – all by myself! Christ, I think it’s the beginnings of dementia – fabricating my own little world! *cue screaming*
Anyway – where were we? Ah yes – the tower. So it’s built in ‘ridges’ – 24 of them – which amazingly act as … you guessed it … a SUNDIAL! Inside is just one spiral staircase leading to a balcony on every storey. Up to 1981 visitors could climb the staircase. Unfortunately, a tragic accident on a school trip resulted in the death of several children on that same staircase and since then nobody is allowed in (cheery bit of info for you!). The only other lovely thing about this tower is that from a helicopter (no, no chance to confirm, I’m afraid!) I’m told it looks like a lotus flower (national flower!).
On the same site as the tower is the remains of a very beautiful Hindu Temple. I won’t describe the temple but on the grounds there remains a single solid iron flagpost. It used to be good luck to stand with your back to this flagpost and link your arms behind it. Due to the hazards of iron deposits, etc. nobody is allowed to do that now but the more interesting fact here is that analysis of the iron used to construct this flagpost has revealed an ‘iron’ that is undocumented and seemingly still impossible to replicate with all of today’s scientific knowledge.
Cool, eh?
From there we went to the Dilli Haat (or something like that) – basically, an outdoor shopping mall. Stress!
Sing with me now … Show me the way to go home, I’m tired and I wanna go to bed …
Before I forget, Professor Lord Winston (is that the right way round?) was scheduled to join us at some point during the trip but sadly his mum died and he was unable to meet us.
LAST NIGHT: Gala dinner. Due to be a lovely evening but sadly not quite what it should have been. It’s the little things, isn’t it? But I suppose it’s also because we were exhausted. Still – if I’d been sitting at the table I KNOW I would have kept seats for the rest of my ‘team’. So it was a bit sad that nobody bothered for us. I guess we just weren’t a team after all. Or maybe team spirit didn’t matter any more. Either way, it was a disppointing glimpse of human nature at its ‘best’ (?). Friendship can be so badly misconceived, can’t it? You’d think we’d learn as we get older but … well, I obviously haven’t. Anyway – an eye-opener, to say the least.
But luckily this journey wasn’t about friends and friendships – although I think we all found new friends along the way. The gala dinner was a bit of a mess, to be honest. On the up side, I ended up sitting with people I’d barely met and had a super time exchanging new stories and experiences. The entertainment was great, too. Lisa read her poem brilliantly and there were certainly a few people around me who were discreetly trying to wipe tears from their eyes unnoticed. Kate’s song was beautiful and I can’t remember the lady’s name who did the Heaven and Hell clip with the paper, but it was lots of fun.
And then came the ‘prize-giving’. Groan, groan, groan. It was misplaced and extremely inappropriate – embarrassing, humiliating and I doubt there was anyone in the room who didn’t cringe. How dare they attempt to measure people’s grief or personal battles? How dare they attempt to measure the ‘most adversity’ – and/or, worse, to give prizes reflecting the personal lives of the half dozen people out of the 84 that the tour organiser deigned to speak to when there were doubtless many people in that room who had suffered untold grievances which had driven them to be there in the first place.
In short, it was a disgrace! A poor end to a wonderful challenge. I KNEW I should have gone home yesterday lol
An early start to the airport. A lengthy morning and endless queues later we boarded. Another comfortable flight home (apart from having to fight for my duty free, but that’s another story). Anyway, I got it. I also landed safely. And my trip home was uneventful apart from realising that the air hostess had failed to give me back my credit card (I knew she didn’t like me LOL). All that aside, I was home around 11 p.m. and I couldn’t wait! It was wonderful walking in the door to warmth, comfort, familiarity, family and – let’s be honest – A FLUSHING TOILET – Hip, Hip, Hooray! And I can think of no better way to end this journey than with that image! Thank you for reading.

Thanks also to my wonderful husband, who’s supported me all the way (you can hear the Oscar speech coming on, can’t you?). Thanks to my fantastic children, who wrote lovely messages for me on my tee-shirt. And thank you THANK YOU to all my friends and sponsors because I literally would never have got there without you.

And thank you to Ali for getting me up that hill.

Oh and – as promised …
Oh, all right then – I promise not to post all 187, but here are a few of them:
• Fancy head dress for a camel
• Pillow for camel cart driver
• Bust expansion
• Bullet-proof vest
• Handbag
• Toilet seat cover
• Hanging basket
• Udder protection
• Door mat
• Padding for cage on top of elephant to stop chafing
• Emergency sanitary towel
• Post-coital knickers for extra absorption
• Collection for IVF
• Ear muffs
• Draught excluder
• Frost protection for plants
• Crash helmet for rabbit
• Over-door baby bouncer/sling
• Incontinence knickers for elderly relative
• Incontinence knickers for incontinent relative!
• Sledge
• Dog chew
• Parachute
• Contraceptive
• Life raft
• Shoulder pads
• Nose bag
• Cot bumper
• Emergency airplane slide
• Firelighter
• Rice strainer
• Flag
• Sporran
• Catapult
• Bagpipes
Get the idea? Yep! That’s about as sophisticated as our entertainment got …
Things I forgot to say …
Things I forgot (subject to change/additions):
You know the piles of sticks these beautiful little women carry on their heads? I asked one lady if I could carry and bundle and get a photo but she said No. The caretaker of the palace where I was standing came running up and explained that it would be too dangerous – each bundles weights up to 40 kg!!! And they make it look so easy …
Monkeys are really bad-tempered!
Accidents. People keep asking me about accidents. There was only one serious accident – on the very last day. One lovely lady caught the edge of a stone with her bike, fell awkwardly and smashed her elbow. She was flown home straight after being x-rayed. I think she needs a pin in her shoulder but I don’t know the facts. Either way, I wish you all the best, Andrea. Really, really bad luck.
Vimal – you’re a star! What would we have done without you?
Jane – many, many thanks for putting up with me throughout.
Terry, Dawn and Alison – thanks for the hysterical conversations – the laughter kept me warm (and, I was going to say, sane, but I’m sure there are some who’d dispute that!)

“Look’s just like Rutland!” (??)
“It’s just like Lanzarote!” (love that)
and my personal favourite:
“Can’t wait to get back to the UK for a proper curry!” (Jane – that made me laugh loads)

Cycle India

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