First as usual, a word on my hotel. Tourism in India is hard work for the individual traveller and so hotels play a large part, ideally as havens of peace and rest between the different expeditions. I know from last time friends asked for recommendations, so it is useful for me to mention the hotel as an aide memoire.
The Hotel Femina was recommended in Rough Guide (which I am beginning to rely on rather than Lonely Planet) and apart from its attractive name, has turned out to be an excellent choice. I find that most hotels I am using are frequented more by Indian middle classes than backpackers. This one has a tremendously plush public area - acres marble floor and gaudy gold chandeliers etc and TWO lifts.
My room, a single non-AC is at the far end of a corridor, opposite the service lift, so a bit noisy. But impeccably clean, with armchair, telly, a table to write on and a comfy bed, the essential fan (not AC which I dont like anyhow), and all for 430 rupees (about a fiver) so I’m not complaining! Once again Claire is paying 100 rupees less for her hotel and says the bathroom is not particularly clean and her room is bang opposite the bus station and so very noisy. She tried to switch to mine, but now the only room available is 1500 rupees!
The two restaurants here are good as well; we have just had lunch (attended by five waiters because we were early) and it cost us 50p each! Better still there are two modern PCs with Windows XP for hotel clients (albeit a network collection which falls over from time to time) and I have just completed the Pondicherry to Trichy sections. Up to date at last! It has been such a shame that I had to keep repeating myself as I lost text again and again. It somewhat dampened the freshness I fear.
Anyhow I've spent the morning at the computer. This was intentional as I reckon I needed a break from sightseeing. Now Claire and I are off to see the Fort.
The Fort stands on a high, rocky hill in the middle of the Old City. Claire and I took a bus there. Quite an experience as nobody spoke English. There was no room for our knees but as the journey was only a few kilometers we survived. The conductor rushed up and down, blowing his whistle to get the driver to stop or start and yelling what sounded like “hurry. Hurry. Hurry” at every stop. At any rate, the bus would start before people had really got on and they had to cling on to avoid falling out of the open door. We had no idea when to get out, but luckily a schoolgirl plucked up courage to ask us “Where are you going?” and showed us when to get off.
We were still quite a way from the Fort; in fact including some wrong turns I must have walked at least three kilometres. At least, that is what my back tells me. We made our way through the Old City bazaar, which was humming with life and seemed more varied than the usual row of stalls selling the same things. We spotted a couple of bookstalls, selling such thrilling items as elderly physics text books and a manual for Cobol (a programming language which went out in the 80s). The stalls were interspersed with shops with actual shop windows, usually clothes or materials.
We eventually found our way to the foot of the hill. The way up was through a series of temples, so with much trepidation we had to leave our shoes at the bottom. However there was a railing up the 400 plus steps and although they were steep, they were relatively smooth, and I don’t actually find climbing uphill too difficult.
The view outside the Ganesh temple at the top was actually a little disappointing, not least because the city was shrouded in a dusty, polluted haze. It is not a romantic view, as over the blue houses of Jodhpur, but it did give us a good impression of the size of Trich (800,000 inhabitants) and we could see the towers of the temple we are visiting tomorrow.
As usual the way up was packed with Indian tourists as well as people coming to pray in the various temples (many of which, including the most ancient Pallavan ones, were only open to Hindus).
We wandered further in the Old City and came across a group of buildings containing a dilapidated Registry Office, a Police Office and museum, and looking as if they had seen better days in the time of the Raj. In the middle of this slummy area there was a surprising green pocket: public gardens. We didn’t like to explore them as it seemed a men-only area.
On our way back, Claire showed me her hotel room, which was the same size as mine but distinctly more grubby, with a front row view of the bus station below. We then decided to take a look at the ‘shopping mall’ next to my hotel. It made me think of a tatty bottom of the range Lidl. Lots of the brand names were familiar – Pedigree food for dogs, Kelloggs, Horlicks etc – though the actual products had clearly been made in India for the local market. Claire hankered after some chocolate, until I pointed out the Best Before date and reminded her what chocolate which has melted and then hardened again tastes like. I wonder if the staff, let alone the customers can read these dates, as they appeared to be in English only.
Instead we went had a cup of tea in my hotel. Actually Claire had an Indian snack and so liked the sauces that, much to the amusement of the five waiters watching us, asked for a dosa so she could continue sampling the sauces. I am suffering a rather mysterious loss of appetite, which I suppose I should be pleased about. So instead I looked at my recent output of photos. Very soon all the waiters were peering at them, happily identifying the various gods and temples. When they asked about our route I explained that I came from the UK and Claire from New Zealand and instantly one of them chanted the names of the key kiwi cricketers. They clearly regarded us as eccentric but amusing and bid us a cheerful goodbye when we left.
I’ve just been watching some Indian telly. They specialize in slow motion close camera work, with intense studies of people agonizing over someone or something, with more observation of behavioural conventions than realism. The plot is usually quite clear, which is just as well, since the films are in Hindi whereas the Tamils here speak Tamil…