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October 11, 2008

Asia Bound

After what feels like an eternity back in Europe, I've just booked my flight out to India for Friday. I'd been hanging around waiting for last week's agency meeting in Paris - which was good fun and went really well - and now I'm more than ready to get back to Asian life, hot weather, and the best the third world has to offer.

October 18, 2008

Near Destitute in India

I landed in Mumbai just after midnight to discover that my bank had placed a security block on my card and I was unable to get any cash out. I'd been meaning to use the ATM when I was in Heathrow but had instead hung around the Apple store waiting to see if their new Macbooks would get delivered before my flight boarded. They hadn't, and here I was now in a different world, in the middle of the night, fearfully digging into my pockets for leftover cash.

After changing those meagre funds I caught a wrecked old taxi with a wrecked old driver and we rattled off slowly to the hotel I'd booked. On the way I tried to call my bank to sort things out but was frustratingly put on hold until the credit on my phone ran out.

It was 02:30 when I finally arrived at the hotel, knowing I was about to find out whether or not I'd be spending my first night back in India sleeping on the pavement. I explained the problems I'd been having to the receptionist when he asked for my card and thankfully he handed me the room key and told me just to sort it out in the morning.

From the room I called my bank again and within five minutes my card was working. It's hard to explain the excitement you feel when an ATM whirrs, counting out your cash, and your fears of being destitute in India vanish like a bad dream.

October 21, 2008

Bombay Mix

I spent a few days staying in expensive Mumbai, wandering superficially around the city and trying to sleep in 31c heat at night, but decided it was time to move on. So I booked a flight to Jaipur in Rajasthan and headed north to where the camels live.

October 23, 2008

Off to Jaisalamer

I'm just about to head to the station to catch the midnight train to Jaisalamer, a 13 hour trip to the most western point of the railway line in Rajasthan.

Jaipur has been interesting, although bigger and more hectic than I expected; maybe I should have expected that with a population of over 2 million. Things are particularly busy in all Indian towns these days with the approach of Diwali, the biggest festival of the year. Celebrating the triumph of good over evil, light over darkness, it's a time of giving gifts and giving thanks - a bit like Christmas but without the reindeer and bad music.

October 26, 2008

Jaisalmer Express

As the train I was catching pulled into Jaipur station, a strange thing happened - all the other westerners headed off to their carriages at the opposite end of the train from mine. I began wondering whether, if, during the rushed booking process in the station queue, I'd booked myself into the wrong level of the many, many different classes that the Indian railway system has. Sure enough, I was stepping into another world.

The carriage was full f Indian men who seemed a bit surprised to see me there. I was in one of the top bunks, which were more like hard benches, in a 6 berth compartment that smelt of urine. The formica walls were filthy, the fans not working, and bugs swarmed around the bright, flourescent light fixed to the ceiling 12" from my face. Attempting to switch it off, I discovered that the switch was broken, and with sleep seeming impossible, I lay there listening to the old man below me coughing like he was about to bring up a lung.

Eventually, I managed to work my fingers through the steel cage, twist the flourescent tube out of it's connectors, and everything went dark. Still wide awake, I lay there thinking that I wouldn't sleep all night - but the next thing I knew it was 11am and we were almost in Jaisalmer.

The following evening I met some Austrians who put my story to shame. The railway carriage they'd been in had had rats running around the floor and cockroaches as big as a man's hand fought for supremacy.

October 27, 2008

Ants of Jaisalmer

I liked Jaisalmer more for what wasn't there than what was. Although the old fort was an exquisite collection of intricately carved sandstone buildings, since I'd flown into India I'd been in one big city after another. Being in a small town was a welcome escape from the madness of Indian traffic and some of the noise. That, and I was staying in a lovely guesthouse with a great roof terrace and lots of interesting people caused me to stay five nights.

On my second night I came down from the roof terrace, somewhat the worse for wear, to discover what looked like lots of specks of dirt moving around my bed. A more sober person would have realised sooner that a thousand or so ants had decided to build a nest behind the carved sandstone headboard and invade the bed. Maybe the ants were doing all the sandstone carving in town?

I decided to try to sleep on the roof terrace under the desert sky, but when the mosquitoes refused to let me rest I knew I had to waken up the guy sleeping on the floor in reception. In his helpful, but half-asleep, state he did his best to get the ants out of my bed but in the end decided it was easier just to give me another room.