Neil and Robin|
Tripping In India
Planet India II
How To Get Discovered In Bollywood:
1. Have the right look...look 'foreign'
2. Have talent...be adept at sitting around on a set for ten hours plus with other foreigners who are also bored senseless
3. Be Intelligent...have an uncanny ability to understand and follow simple instructions such as "put on this ridiculous outfit, get infront of the camera and make a fool of yourself"
Our time in Mumbai was a sort of homecoming for us as we visited with those whom we had befriended during Neil's hospital stint. They were all surprised and happy to see us, convinced we would never really return to India. Perhaps they thought we couldn't possibly come back for more...
We made the most of our time in Mumbai as extras in the latest "Bollywood" production. India is the second largest movie-maker in the world and they pump out the same cheesy singing, dancing films time and time again for millions of die-hard fans. Typical of the movie industry, the day was spent sitting around watching talentless individuals attempt to fake their way through song and dance routines they didn't know. Thank goodness we didn't have to suffer alone but rather with other like-minded travellers who were much more interesting than the movie itself.
Our second day on set was much shorter and more rewarding, since we were the stars. It was a documentary they were filming about a famous Indian general. We played a British couple who had befriended the general and upon returning to the UK, named their son after him. Coming soon to a dusty archive shelf near you...
With two trips to India within two months, all we had seen was Mumbai. It was time to climb aboard the next train north and head to Rajasthan.
Most people spending any time in India will eventually take one, if not many, overnight trains. Our first experience included sharing our cabin with a friendly Indian family who fed us and gave Robin a 'welcome to India' henna tatoo as a gift. To our delight, our first stop on our journey was as pleasant as the train ride there. Mt. Abu, a lakeside retreat and home to five famous Jain temples, offered a break from the heat and a peaceful atmosphere. 'Peaceful' would be a word soon forgotten as we delved deeper into the (touristy) heart of Rajasthan.
The movie theme continued with a visit to Udaipur, famous for its Lake Palace and home to the James Bond villainess "Octapussy". More entertaining than one of the nightly showings of the movie was time spent at "Bharti's", run by restauranteur and spiritual guru named Raju. More fascinating than Raju's delicious food were his stories of ashrams, the Sai Baba, and playing host for 12 days to pop-star Ricky Martin.
Next was Pushkar, a small, holy village by the lake. After visiting the sites, we quickly grew tired of the week-old tourist left-overs (from its infamous camel fair) and moved on.
More train rides and sites: Ajmer and its holy Muslim temple; the palace, fort, and beautiful White Temple of Jodhpur; the still-inhabited Old Fort in Jaisalmer not complete without the highlight trip out to the desert; and Rathambore National Park which at one time was home to lions (no longer), tigers, and (Sloth) bears though the tigers must have been either crouching or hidden as we never got to see a live one - but the JungleBook-esque atmosphere was inspiring nonetheless!
The train rides continued, becoming less comfortable, less friendly and all around less fun. After a night of inhaling gas fumes coming from a container that a squatting cabin-mate had so kindly put under Robin's bed, we arrived in Jaipur - the epitome of tourist-hassling India.
Notorious for its touts, con artists and annoying tuk tuk drivers, Jaipur lived up to its reputation as a city to 'see the sites and get out'. The Amber Fort and Pink City were worth the aggravation. Finding solace at our homey Athiti Hotel, and enjoying our dinners at the Pizza Hut where the wait staff actually does a song and dance routine better than any seen in Bollywood, will be our fondest memories of Jaipur ;)
Despite our pizza reprieve in Jaipur, we really loved the Indian food and managed the trip with no signs of the dreaded 'Delhi belly'. Like Pavlov's dogs, we now salivate at a menu that includes dishes like "Paneer Butter Masala," "Veg Biryani" and "Masala Dosai." Note: Banana Lassis have become a staple in our travel diet.
Surprisingly, Agra was even more magical than expected. We stayed a mere two minute walk from the Taj Mahal. Only a handful of tourists were at the Taj at sunrise and we were able to enjoy a couple of hours walking the grounds before the hordes arrived. Across the river, at 'Baby Taj' it was a photographers delight - tourist-free.
We saved the best for last with our visit to Varanasi. We took an early morning boat-ride along 'the Ganga' (Ganges River) and watched the village come alive as many began the day with a ritualistic bath in this holy river.
There is an indescribable energy about Varanasi. It is a place witness to the entire life cycle, where you can't help but feel extremely close to the experiences of living and dying all in one day. As we watched bodies being cremated at the burning Ghat from a rooftop restaurant, the owner joked that it was an 'all-day BBQ'. As he said, India can be a 'good trip' or a 'bad trip', but it's always a 'trip'. Welcome to planet India!
One final train ride to the border and a soft landing back on planet earth as we crossed the border into Nepal...
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