Ahmedabad: Hotel check out at 10am, overnight bus at 9pm: there are plenty of ways to bridge that gap, but not many that don’t leave you melting in the 47 degree heat of our final day in Gujarat. The get-out clause? We gave it some rea thought, and settled on paying a 4* hotel to let us waste away the hours in their back garden swimming pool. There’s been a touch too much comfort to our trip so far. That sounds ridiculous, but I’m not the type to city hop, staying in ‘pricey’ (for India) hotels with full air con, satellite TV and room service. Generally they take away from the experience (and obliterate the budget), but for Helena to do her research in the intolerable height of one of the hottest pre-monsoon summers in years in India’s hottest two states, there was little choice. The swimming pool was our first moment of unnecessary indulgence, and a great one it was too.
We turned up half an hour after check out, bags in two, and bargained the surly receptionist down to a modest 800 Rupees (or over half a day’s budget), and she showed us through to a beautifully cool pool surrounded by half of Ahmedabad’s wildlife using the water and manicured lawns as they’re own heat retreat. A day of shade-bathing, swimming and watching crows and chipmunks slurp the pool water, whilst periodically smuggling in cold drinks from the supermarket next door ended just in time for some water melon from a street vendor and the start of our journey to Jodphur. For that part, switch to ‘the bad and the ugly’.
Jodphur: ‘The gateway to the desert’. That’s how the tourist lit describes Jodphur, but it’s far more than that. It was my second time here, and the whole reason for going was a cleverly contrived (and ultimately surprisingly successful) plan to avoid another unpleasant day or two in Delhi. Helena has an amazing knack for finding great hotels in budget, and Jodphur’s was a fantastic trip highlight so far: a Haveli (traditional trading building) fully restored to former glories, decked out in red silken bed sheets, a window seat to match with a sensational rooftop view over to what must be one of the world’s biggest forts. Jodphur fort sits on top of a 125metres tall cliff that overhangs the city, casting a huge shadow, and our off-peak hotel rates had us the perfect view of it all for less than ten pounds a night. To top it all off, the owner had a friendly personality without a hint of the salesman to it, even helping us to get round being ripped off by the cities touts. A true rarity in India.
We did precious little with our time in Jodphur – ate in the restaurant, had a beer or two in the evening and walked around the shoddy marketplaces set amongst crumbling desert sandstone palaces that seem to be hidden round every corner. During the night the first desert rain for nearly five months fell, accompanied by what must have been hundreds of bolts of sheet lightning. Our Perspex windows put up a fairly tame resistance, as did the hotels power supply. By morning all that was left of it all was the sickly smell of mangos mixed with cow manure in the main market square, and a thin line of condensation on the inside of our plastic windows. A great one-night stop.
Rishikesh: I love Rishikesh. I’ve loved it since the moment I arrived here in 2006, and bumped into Ade and Zoe, a couple from Bolton. I spent four days with them, and I think I can honestly say few people have more influence on my life now than the way that they lived theirs. If only for those few days it will always be a special place to me. It’s a hippie hideaway; the first major city on along the course of ‘mother Ganga’, the ‘world capital of yoga’ and the place where the Beatles wrote the majority of the White Album.
Even more importantly right now, it’s cold. By cold, I mean a pleasant 35 degrees, and after 12 days out here in the sweltering peak of summer, I can’t remember ever being more relieved. The agenda: write, swim, and bike up into some mountains. Maybe even squeeze in a bit of white water rafting, though ‘white water’ may well be an exaggeration of the highest order. But most of all, enjoy a few days without ‘the bad and the ugly’, chilling. In the most literal possible sense of the word.
I’m a happy man!