First of all, it's a bit late, but happy New Year to you all.
Well it has to be said that the holiday wasn't entirely successful, but it was enjoyable. Just 12 hours before the arrival of Caroline I managed to a aquire a sore throat that was very painful and took hold very quickly, so that when she arrived I had an unwanted gift for her. Unfortunately she accepted it but it seemed to affect her far worse which she left to get to its peak on New Years Eve, then she mucked about with it, mashed it up and passed it back to me. We seem to be bouncing it between the pair of us getting worse each time.
But Caroline is a tough character and she didn't let it bother her too much so we managed to do a fair bit of walking around Old Delhi before taking cycle rickshaw to Raj Ghat, the spot where Gandi was cremated. She didn't go too much on the cycle rickhaw ride there though, I think she didn't take too kindly to going the wrong way down a busy dual carriageway, but I admit it takes a bit of getting used to.
We then had to get to Agra by public transport, something I had been dreading as it is so much easier at your own pace and time on a bike. We opted out of the 6am tourist buses, and then out of buses altogether as I didn't realise that Caroline suffered from travel sickness on them, nor did she fancy the crowds on the "black holes" as she called them and I have to agree it wouldn't have been exactly comfortable, so we aimed for the train station. These too are really busy but made easier for us by having a foreigner's booking office. There were lots of people sitting around but no queue, until we discovered the queue was sitting around and that it would take about one hour twenty minutes to reach the front. Still at least that gave us time to work out which train name and number we needed, then to find out that you cant go on that train as booking closes 4 hours before departure. So we ended up on the 17:30 train, but at least booked our onward journey from Agra, a 06:15 train, Caroline wasn't there so I had to make the decision and once again she took it well despite not relishing the prospect, not that I did either mind. We spent the rest of the day looking around New Delhi, spacious and relaxed compared to old Delhi, we even sat on the grass and enjoyed the sunshine for a while. The train journey itself was great. They are big trains, 20 carriages plus, and you have a coach number and seat number, made very easy to find as the coach numbers appear on electronic boards on the platform well before the train arrives, made slightly more confusing by the train turning up on a different platform. The train was going much further than we were so it was a sleeper with a bed each that converted into seat which meant just 4 people per compartment, we shared ours with Adam from Canada who had booked his seat a month ago, and Ankit from Delhi going to pick his wife and car up from the in-laws in Agra. It made for a sociable journey though Ankit painted a rosy picture of India. He was well educated and obviously had a very good job and said was surprised when we said he spoke good English. He said that all Indians did and that they nearly all had a car. Most Indians speak no English in my experience, very few as good as his and if all Indians had cars then the roads wouldn't be as congested and polluted as they are now because nothing would be able to move. A nice man though and as we left the station on a cold evening he was there waiting for us prouding holding his year old son who he had been telling us about and introducing us to his wife. We took an auto-rickshaw for the 9km ride to the hotel but the ventillation was just a bit too good for a cold night.
We changed rooms after the first night for one with a Taj view, a little way off, 600m or so, but still a classic view across the tree tops. The following day was Sunday, the Indian's day off and we walked past the Taj which had massive queues at the West Gate when I had seen none on my previous visit, they must have been 200-300m long so we were thankful we were heading for the Fort. The Fort was busy, but no queueing involved and far more interesting that the Red Fort in Delhi. There were wonderful pillar supported hall, palaces, and ornately covered quarters, added to that views along the river to the Taj. We then walked back to the Taj hoping the queues would have died down, not at all, the heavy traffic gave the game away and the queues were even longer. Having decided our stratergy over the next days we had to bite the bullet and go for it. The West Gate seemed to be where all the Indians came in on coaches, the East Gate had shorter queues of tourists from coaches, so we went through the little lanes to the South Gate which has a queue of about 20m, so we were soon being searched by security and in, until I was told to leave my bag behind in a locker room that closed 2 hours before the Taj did, then I had to queue again to be searched which took much longer, I wasn't best pleased as I only had an hour and 3/4 there. Once inside, yes it busy down the central paths, but the outer paths were empty. Leaving shoes and getting up to the next level was a bit more challenging, though once up you again had some space. The mosque was also wonderful, the beautiful architecture only spoilt by the addition of a very out of place electronic noticeboard. Time was running out so we tried to get up the steps to the Taj level, people going up and down the same staircase. It was a horrible struggle as it ground to a halt, people start to push. We inched our way up to find just a small gap at the top with the same happening on the other side from an identical staircase opposite. We could only get out by going on a small ledge with a tiny foot high railing to a drop straight back down, this is how disasters happen with crowds of people. Thankfully by the time we went down police had arrived and implemented a one way system giving easy access. We didn't get to see the tombs as we were running out of time, despite our attempts to go in the wrong way. It was then time to make a dash for the bag before the kiosk closed so I left Caroline to take her time. I enjoyed being there, its a wonderful place, but because of time I always felt rushed and on edge, I would have liked to and wandered around relaxed, reflecting on the place and taking more time with my photos, nevermind.
I don't know if I have got my dates right, but I think the following day was New Years Eve. Caroline had gone downhill health wise and had a fever so decided to stay in bed, but the plus side was that it was a great place to be ill and look out of the window at the Taj. After a trip to the pharmacist to buy anything that might be useful, also calling in at a herbal shop to see what they could offer. I bought a remedy for coughs ad cold and jar of honey for making hot drinks but declined his sales pitch on the remedy for hair loss. By the afternoon Caroline was feeling a bit better so was got a tuk-tuk to the baby taj, probably mentioned in an early posting, but a lovely peaceful place and a fantastic little building with serene gardens where we sat and relaxed a while in the sunshine. Its construction was completed just 30 years before contruction started on the Taj and whilst different you can certainly see alot of similarities in it. I suspect Old Money Bags who had the Taj built for his 2nd wife who died during childbirth of their 14th child said to his architect "I want one like that, only bigger, MUCH bigger...and better. I've got wads of cash just burning a whole in my pocket". We returned to the hotel to watch the sunset for the final time of 2007 from the hotel rooftop, through sadly not behind the Taj. Entertainment was provided from the very posh Hotel Amas Vilas next door, for too posh for me with prices from $500-2400, but the entertainment was missed by those within. They employed somebody to keep pigeons of the roof, his only tool a flag on a long pole. He wasn't you average Indian though, he was really up for the task in had and having seen him I would employ him. I would have employed that last pigeon as well mind you as there was a long lasting battle of wits between man a very persistant bird. He would chase it off, then it would do a lap or two, land else where, only for our intrepid hero to come running along to see it off again, and so it continued for over 30 minutes. Sometimes it would land below the rooftop but he would track it down and the game continued, great to watch and all for free. Caroline was feeling rough again so we had a early night but a bit wasted as very loud music was being played from across the road. When I went to see what a great party it was there were all of about 6 people there! I settled down knowing I would get much sleep but 2 minutes later I was fast asleep, not even woken by the fireworks!
The New Year started early, too early, 4:45 to be exact to catch that 6:15 train, which was not feeling such a good idea now. By 5:30 we were in reception and our ordered taxi was waiting for us to whisk us through the empty street to the packed railway station. There must be a mistake, it says on the board that it departs at 8:55. I checked, it wasn't a mistake, just very late. Great. We had got up early when Caroline needed rest, not that she had slept much, and skipped breakfast to sit on a cold unwelcoming platform for 3 hours. How is that that I have to rush around the Taj yet have as much time as I would possibly desire at this place. We tried to make the most of it by having hot tea and talking the time away, then after about an hour and a half I discovered a waiting room which was a bit warmer, then our departure put back to 9:15 then 9:30. At 8am we went for a walk to get warmed up and outside was once again buzzing. We got back to find at 8:45 to find it was still scheduled for 9:30 but when I wasn't looking they put it back to 9:45, then 10. We seemed to constantly have 45 minutes to wait, they were just teasing us a sort of "please don't go it will be here in a minute". Finally it went back to 10:10 and they even announced that it was incoming so we stood be our coach number, but still it didn't arrive. At last to turned up at 10:25 but its 5 min stop turned out to be 20 minutes so at 10:45 we had been waiting 5 hours, oh joy. But at least it was another sleeper and Caroline made the most of it and got a little rest as there was nobody with us. We arrived at Jaipur at 15:20, longer than scheduled, so it was slipping further and further back. We were both tired so we just rested making the most of the nice relaxing rooftop area covered in pot plants.
The following day Caroline had picked up somewhat despite another restless night and we got out to see the Pink City as it is called, vistiting a good tower for some wonderful views, the city palace and Jatar Mantar and area full of large astrological instruments, really interesting but impossible to understand and therefore to explain to you. We saw one in Delhi to but the instruments were far bigger than here and had become little more than a kids playground. During the night it was my turn to go downhill. Whilst I was lying down I didn't feel I wasn't right but I needed the loo. I sat up and felt worse, stood up and felt worse still but thought I could make it, I couldn't. I couldn't work out where I was going and felt very faint and found a wall to hang on to and asked for the light to be turned on. I remember nothing for the next few seconds but it felt like an age then I heard "John, are you alright", "I need the light turned on" I said and was surprised of the answer "It is". Then things became clearer and I made it to the loo and slowly recovered enough for the return journey. The following day was pretty much a write off.
Just ordering breakfast and heading up to the rooftop made me feel a little feint so I was relieved to sit down. Caroline was feeling reasonable but there was no real chance of doing any site seeing. Having been given a web address for the online booking of train tickets I used the internet in the Guest House to try and book them. What a stange site it was too! Sure enough it was for Indian train booking but the sub menu gave about 6 option, all of which sounded like the one I need such as "e-train ticket", "train reservation" etc, but go into any of these and the best I could get out of it was to book a flight. Finding a wife was another option, so whats that got to do with trains. On reflection perhaps I should have given it a go. So we had the only option of going back to the train station and fighting the masses. I did my best at queueing but was struggling to stand up so good old Caroline queued whilst I sat down. Once we had our train details, 05:05 or 17:35, we had to queue again to get the ticket but at least there were seats right next to that queue. At last we got to the front and up went the Closed sign, deep joy, but thankfully only for a 15 minute shift handover. Once tickets were in hand we returned and relaxed in the sun on the roof. Caroline went downhill then and neither of us fancied eating out in the evening.
The following day we both felt rough. I had hoped we would both be on the mend and get the bus to Amber Fort, but none of it. All we could managed was a tuk-tuk to the Palace of the Winds and back, then just waiting for our evening train, a long wait. The train was not an overnighter so had ordinary seat. Once away we were given a litre of mineral water, a nice bonus. That was followed mango juice, a light snack, a flask of water to make tea, bread stick, soup, a very good full meal, yogurt and finally icecream. Caroline gave up early on but I boldly fought my way through the lot, and some of hers. It was 5 hours of eating.We got to New Delhi at 22:45 and had to fight through all the hassle of the tuk-tuk drivers in their bid to rip us off. We were both feeling rough and just needed to lie down and I was getting irritable with them but Caroline just told me to calm down, nothing seems to bother her, she seems to have embraced India better than I have.
Thankfully we both felt much better the following morning, the day for Caroline to return. There seemed a lot to due such as giving her all my unwanted things to take home, before we departed for the airport at 10:30. We said our farewells for the last time as distances will be too great now. As I left the airport building I was called back, "You can't leave the building" he said, "Why not I am not on a flight" I replied. I guessed I shouldn't have entered as he checked everybodies tickets and passports except mine, but I got away with it as I was carrying Caroline's rucksac. He got a bit stroppy and I thought he was going to send me off for questioning, "Who let you in?" he asked, "You did" I said which was true. That changed his mind for him he didn't want me to being questioned if I was going to tell them that he hadn't been doing his job properly, so he let me go. I enjoyed her being here, she is a great companion and a good person to travel with apart from the facts that she wont stay in crappy hotels that you have to at times and she doesn't ride a bike. Never was there a word of complaint, she is just great, but before she left she gave me her best parting shot of the bug we had been passing back and forth (I don't really blame her at all, it just sounds good). On the my return to the hotel the taxi driver who had been silent on the way out now let his personality flow to the extent that he was singing to me, thats no way to get a bigger tip in my opinion! I moved from my nice comfortable hotel to my cheap shabby hotel, back to reality. My bike had been in the clean and tidy reception area and had been cleaned before I left, but was now covered in a layer of dust. By about 5pm I could feel myself going downhill again, so I lay down. The only way I could stop myself coughing was to lie on my front and that is pretty much how I remained for the next 48 hours.
The night was long and tough, I felt very ill. I kept nodding off and having the same abstact dream over and over again. The were 2 sets of parallel lines forming a V shape. Between those line were grey circles or spheres to the right and pale red to the left. For some reason there seemed to be an Indian connection and they appeared to be route, the grey being the easier. I tried both constantly but never got top the end, all very strange. I felt slightly better during the day but couldnt even face watching the live FA Cup matches on the television, how bad is that? I remained very thirsty the whole time and just couldn't drink enough.
The following night wasn't quite so bad, but far from good. I got up to have a shower in the morning and looked in the mirror, but who the hell was that looking back at me. I looked terrible, no, even worse than usual. I looked incredibly thin, my stomach seemed to have fallen off since I last looked, my face was long drawn and thin, wrinked with big bags under the eyes and a dark red mucas on my lips, some of which had been deposited on my teeth. Even my hands look so thin, I didn't know they could do that! For the first time in my life I felt I needed to put on a little weight, if only to stop the trousers falling down. After a shower I called reception and asked for a doctor. Within minutes I was talking to one on the bedside phone and having told him my symptoms he said he would be around in half an hour, such a relief as I had expected to have to wait all day. Sure enough he was bang on time and after a brief checkup and gave me a variety of pills to be taken at various time of the day over the next five days, some had to be taken after food. He also gave me a perscription and told me there was a pharmacist around the corner but I told him there was no way I could get there, I had hardly enough strength to stand up, so he arrange for the hotel staff to sort it out. Once he left I ordered some porridge but could only manage a few spoonfuls, took my pills and lay on my stomach again. I don't know how long I slept but when I woke up the top half of my sheet and the whole of the pillow were covered in sweat, not just damp but sopping wet. There wasn't much point in drinking water I might as well have thrown it over the bed. I called room service and they changed the sheets. When they turned the mattress over the sweat had already reached the other side.
Yesterday I felt a lot better and got up for a few hours but have no strength what so ever and struggle to walk let alone go up the stairs. This thing has hit me hard this time that is for sure. I gave Caroline a quick call before she went to work to let her know I was ok, so imagine my surprise when I heard that she is suffering even worse than me and can't keep any liquids down. She called the doctor for the first time in years and they advised her over the phone but seem to have the attitude of "If you can not be bothered to come into the surgery, you casn't really be ill". Third World India with 1 billion people can manage it in 30 minutes and we even have a load of their doctors. Well done Britain!
Last night was slight worse. The number of blankets I used went in the sequnce of 1-2-3-2-1-0 in the space of 90 minutes as I froze then sweated it out. Today has been much the same as yesterday, sadly no improvement. I think this will take a while to get over, I could be in Delhi for some time.
A note for Audax cyclists reading this. Yesterday I enjoyed reading your comments and reports on the Poor Student from last weekend, it brought me right back home to the countryside on my own doorstep and having ridden it a number of time I could relive it all again. But what is this ice thing that you all talk about? I can tell you it get down to a bone chilling 7 or 8 overnight here at the moment and struggles to make 23 during the day but I haven't seen any of this ice stuff that you talk about. I read that a number fell, so I hope your are all alright, well done to you all. I hope I don't meet such conditions on this trip.
Lorna, you say you have just caught up with the photos, but I have just put another 60 odd on there, sorry, but it keep you on your toes.
I will post again in a few days all being well, not that I will have much to report but it will let my family know that I am fine. And I am fine fine, if I wasn't I probably wouldn't have told you.