India 1998. Part 2. Unrest in the Ranks.

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I have no record of all the members of our Golden Triangle tour, but inevitably we palled up with like-minded souls, our particular tour buddies being Steve and Jane, a jolly and irreverent couple whose feelings about our tour guide matched our own.

Again I failed to record the lady’s name, although I do recall that it began with P, the reason for my recollection being that amongst ourselves we started calling her all manner of Indian items beginning with P, including ‘Paratha’. Aficionados of Indian cuisine will be familiar with parathas, which are a type of Indian flatbread. I’m not proud of our puerile behaviour but Paratha was a control freak, hellbent on pursuing her schedule in spite of us. She’d laid down the rules already: no fraternising with locals, no eating anywhere except of her choosing [this meant meals in the hotel only], no purchases except from the commercial outlets she’d somehow contrived to fit into the ‘schedule’.

Following our gruelling endurance trial of a Delhi tour we were loaded on to a bus for a trip to Sariska National Park, to stay at the Sariska Palace Hotel and get a tiger sighting. The roads took us on a picturesque journey through villages and past many enormous Hindu statues, dotted around in the countryside. The hotel was originally built as a hunting lodge by a Maharajah. Who would not want to stay in this impossibly romantic and picturesque palace, situated on the edge of the park and boasting unbeatable sunset views from its huge terrace? The fact of its down-at-heel decadence did nothing to dim its glorious appeal. Even the beautiful swimming pool had its own palatial pool house, the bedrooms vast and majestic in their faded glory, though somewhat spartan. We, the four of us, swam in the luxurious pool and partook of cocktails on the terrace as the sun dipped.

After dark we sat in the grounds and watched displays from whirling dancers, tumblers, jugglers and a daring fire-eater, whose gasoline-swallowing provoked alarm. What could it be doing to his insides? Meanwhile hordes of audacious monkeys swarmed everywhere, hoping to snaffle tit-bits.

Next morning we were loaded into land rovers for an exploration of the national park, where we’d been assured we’d see a tiger. There was certainly plenty of wildlife-and no shortage of monkeys, but although we were shown tiger tracks, [at which Husband remarked that someone had been around with a tiger foot stamp-pad] we had to assume it was their day off. There were no commercial outlets and nowhere else to eat but the stupendous hotel, whose catering was at least adequate.

Our next destination was to be Jaipur. By now we’d had enough of the carpet factories, gift emporia and jewellery outlets selected by Paratha and were longing to strike out into a city and find our own restaurants or sample delicious-looking food from the stalls that lined every street, rather than sitting around in hushed hotel dining rooms. Paratha was fond of her food and had an imperious manner with the waiting staff that we found distasteful. Clearly she was collecting a commission from the factories she took us to. Was she also receiving a percentage from the hotel dining rooms she insisted we ate in?

But we were not obliged to tow the line. At Sariska we had no other options. In Jaipur the city would be ours to explore…

 

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