Mumbai, menopause and madam – The train

Late trains and Balu’s hullabaloo

The teen and I were catching our first train in India.
We were travelling from Ranthambhore to Delhi to meet up with an old friend, Tanya Willmer, where we would spend just one night before flying to Goa.
Although our train tickets had been booked, that didn’t necessarily mean things would go smoothly. We had heard all the nightmare stories – people claiming your seat, theft, trains not turning up, break downs, fires, or just plain running late.

One Aussie traveller we met travelling with his wife and three daughters, took a sleeper train and woke one night to find an Indian sitting on the end of his bunk.

“He was just sitting there as if it was a perfectly normal thing to do,” he said. “So we had a conversation for the next three hours, which was interesting considering he didn’t speak English and I didn’t speak Hindi.” Throughout the 17-hour-journey he was also handed a Glock pistol to admire, was admired himself by one gentleman who constantly told him he loved him, and he watched in astonishment another man snap a photograph of his daughters before jumping from the moving train as it pulled out from a station.

So what was India without a trip on a train! I figured it was all part of the experience and we had to do it, if only once, and a short trip at that.

Daylight was just breaking on this very cold and foggy morning at Sawai Madhopur station. We were met by a cow blocking the narrow entrance (the teen wouldn’t let me stop and take a photo) and there were lots of shadowy figures…

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…lurking around…

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…which was why the teen was understandably a little nervous.

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Some passengers were making sure they didn’t miss the train…

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…while others waited patiently in the waiting room. This lovely lady couldn’t take her eyes from us, politely staring, while her baby looked just a little alarmed by the teen.

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But once we were on board our train we were pleasantly surprised. The seats were comfortable and clean… and it was quiet. Not only the train itself, but the passengers! It was rather disconcerting being surrounded by people normally so vocal. Our newfound peace was occasionally shattered by the food vendors walking up and down the aisles offering water, chai tea, samosas and vegetable biryani, but apart from that it was probably the quietest time we’d shared.

There was plenty to see through the window.

People working beside the tracks…

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…waiting to cross the tracks…

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…or for a train.

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Wildlife…

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…and of course India wouldn’t be complete without a cow staring at you through the window while stopped at some random station.

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We were comforted to know there was always someone watching over us…

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…there was protection…

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…tender moments…

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…and we were always connected.

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The five and a half hour trip took eight and a half hours, not that there were any announcements en route informing us we were running late. It was a wild guess that this station we pulled into at our designated arrival time wasn’t Delhi.

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Naaaah.

THIS was Delhi.

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Definitely a huge WOW! moment. Nothing could have prepared me for the sheer numbers gathered at Nizamuddin, one of Delhi’s three major railway stations.

It’s being developed to ease congestion.

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And we had to get up those stairs …

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…along with everybody else.

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But just getting to them was a challenge.

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There were hundreds of boxes and sacks piled up, people pushing carts, pulling trolleys, carrying bags on their heads, and among all the chaos, the odd sight of a large dog sitting serenely on a pile of suitcases. Sadly, I couldn’t stop to photograph it, we had to get right in there and flow with the human tide, hoping it would sweep us along to those stairs and up.

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Needless to say, the teen didn’t share my optimism. She was rooted to the spot where we had alighted at the end of the station and where there was still room to move.

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But we had no choice, so in we went.

And we got there, to the top of the stairs without incident, except when I nearly strangled a nanna when I stepped on her long scarf.

Victorious, we then had to figure out how to find our driver. We had said goodbye to our old driver Prakarsh in Ranthambhore and despite phone calls to and from this new driver we still hadn’t determined where we were meeting. Balu was very shouty with an accent as thick as syrup and I couldnt understand a word he was saying. He’d rung us twice on the train, and me, in ignorant bliss of our late schedule, kept telling him we were arriving at 12.30. Of course when I realised how late we actually were it took several calls back and forth to the hotel and the agent to determine our whereabouts and an ETA. I was told “no problem, he will wait”.

But would he? And where?

Our first problem at the top of the stairs was to decide quite simply whether to go left or right, and we had to make a decision in a hurry. Standing still, and dithering, wasn’t an option as we would just be bumped along anyway.

A kind man, alert to our obvious confusion shouted and pointed right so off we headed, interrupted by more phone calls from the incomprehensible Balu , clearly was beside himself with anxiety that he’d lost his cargo. I was forced to keep hanging up on him as I was dealing with the more immediate problem of trying to get through the crowd. I can only imagine how this would have exacerbated poor Balu’s hysteria.

Reaching the exit at the bottom of another set of stairs and a much calmer environment I tried Balu again. We both understood that the teen and I had arrived, it was just trying to describe to each other where we were.

Then an angel intervened.
This young girl approached and asked if she could be “helping me”. I gave her the phone and could hear Babalu shouting into her ear. I also noticed her family standing behind us, watching intently and as proud as punch, that their daughter was able to help the foreigners.

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While we waited for Balu I discovered this young lady’s name was Chandra, she was in Year 11 and was returning to Delhi after celebrating the new year festival with her family in Rajasthan.

Our phone rang again… Balu. Another conversation with Chandra followed…

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And then finally Balu arrived, running towards us flustered and frenzied with his “Miss Wendy” sign. In a tsunami of Hindi he proceeded to explain to poor Chandra everything he’d been through, before charging back to his car, with us trailing behind like naughty schoolchildren.

Inside the car we learned he’d been there since 12.15, (it was now 3.45) because “Miss Wendy you tell me you arriving at 12.30”. It was far too hard to explain that I had no clue when we would arrive, but I think he concluded that “Miss Wendy” had no clue about anything at all. Anyway, Balu was on a roll, nothing was going to stop him recounting to us every minute of his sad afternoon and he dramatically lamented the saga for the whole 40 minute trip.
Each time I thought he’d finished and there was wonderful silence, he was in fact only drawing breath to start all over again … “Miss Wendy, I wait since 12.15…”, never missing out his favourite part about how he’d missed his lunch.
I just tutted sympathetically where I could.

We were near the hotel when Balu’s brouhaha was diverted by a traffic jam of rickshaws, tuk tuks and cars all trying to negotiate the same intersection at the same time.

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This vendor took the opportunity to sell us maps through the car window.

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He stalked us faithfully, convinced we wanted a map of India or the world.
And because the traffic was so slow, he was there, again, when we pulled up at our hotel.

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It was goodbye to Balu, and I could only imagine how his poor wife would be forced to listen to over and over again how “Miss Wendy said she’d be there at 12.30…”

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Mumbai, menopause and madam – New Year’s Eve

Going potty on New Year’s Eve

After watching Sydney bring in the New Year in her own unique and spectacular fashion on our iPad, it was time for the teen and I to herald in the New Year Indian style. We’re staying at the Nahargargh Palace Hotel, a rather flash joint (more about that later) on the
edge of Ranthambhore’s National Park.

We ventured downstairs at 8pm, our nostrils immediately assaulted by the strong smell of smoke.

Bushfires?

Nup, bonfires.

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Several were set up on the lawn before a stage adorned with Indian musicians. And they were armed with drums. The loud banging kind.

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Now I’m not going to beat around the bush here, nor bang on about cultural differences, but I don’t like Indian music. I never have, and after a fortnight here, I doubt I ever will. Actually, in fairness, I’ll modify that, I dont mind some of their modern music, it’s the folksinging which injures the ears. Perhaps it’s an acquired taste, one I have yet to acquire for chamber orchestras, jazz and heavy metal as well. I do like Motown, disco, Willie Nelson and Barbra Streisand, which probably just says more about my age than anything else, but the persistent wailing and shrieking of an Indian folksinger backed up by enthusiastic drum banging, just doesn’t do it for me. And it doesn’t help when you haven’t got a clue what all the wailing is about.

So the teen and I were a little apprehensive when we pulled up a chair. Almost immediately the boys broke out into song. Almost immediately, the teen reached for some comfort food.

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Clearly, after a fortnight here, we’ve heard our fair share of Indian music, but this lot took the biscuit. They took wailing to a new level, screeching with passion and emotion. And one can only imagine what all the hysteria was about. The Indians are an excitable bunch, a casual conversation about the weather can seem to our ears a full force gale of an argument. Were they singing about lost love? Or a favourite goat? Who knew. All the teen and I heard was male voices reaching notes that no man should reach, and drums being banged with increasing intensity.

And then the dancing girls arrived.

One had a pot on her head.

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And she danced effortlessly with the pot on her head.

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And then she put another pot on her head and danced with two pots on her head.

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This is the Bhavai dance, a popular folk dance in Rajasthan which was performed hundreds of years ago with clay pots balanced on the head. These have now been replaced with brass or stainless steel pots. Not much fancy footwork is played out, it’s more of a shuffle backwards and forwards and the odd twirl. Understandable when you’ve got pots on your head.

And just as we were finishing applauding the two-pot dance, along came Helpful Harry, who put another pot on her head.

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Very nice.

And then he put a fourth pot on her head…

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…and you guessed it, she danced with four pots on her head.

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Enter Helpful Harry again to add a fifth…

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…and we were treated to The Five-Pot-Dance

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Now anyone who knows me well, knows I’m not a great fan of dance. I’d rather have my teeth pulled than go to the ballet, or any show based on dance really. But this potty dance got me thinking. It was intriguing to wonder who in hell thought it up. Was it a bunch of men half a century ago sitting around a log fire who thought, “Hey, I know what we can do to liven things up, let’s get a bunch of women to dance around with pots on their heads”.
Or, was it the women themselves, inspired by their amazing ability to carry whatever is required on their heads?

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Maybe, one day, bored between chores they challenged each other to see who could dance with the most pots on their heads.

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The more I thought about it, the more absurd the concept seemed. But then I was distracted by this little fella who appeared from out of the blue to do a lap.
Not quite sure why.

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Time to move on and we headed to dinner, set up beautifully outside in one of the hotel’s many the courtyards.

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We were seated next to a fire…

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…with our own personal fire warden ensuring no embers landed on us. Obviously, two western women had no clue and he took his job very seriously.

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It was a splendid buffet…

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…with very attentive service…

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…and the teen was particularly impressed with the array of deserts on offer.

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Then all of a sudden her head swivelled to the sound of something hauntingly familiar.

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“Oh my gosh! Mum, it’s Justin Bieber!” That apparently was worse than any wailing Indian folksinger. The disco was underway, and it was heaving with Justin Bieber fans.

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It was a bit like a school dance really.

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The teen’s reaction to my suggestion of a bop was a little less than enthusiastic.

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But I could tell she was considering it.

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This little fella was considering it too…

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This bigger fella needed no encouragement, doing it Gangnam style.

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But then we got distracted.
Helpful Harry and the Wailers had returned with their young performer…

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…and the dancers. This time without pots on their heads.

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It struck midnight and the fireworks went off. Perhaps not as spectacularly as Sydney, but pretty nonetheless.

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…and no sign of OH&S.

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Meanwhile, Helpful Harry and the Wailers got right into it, stalking the guests and serenading them with their songs.

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And everyone loved it

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This gentleman was clearly the chief storyteller…

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A formidable force evoking passion and frenzy.

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It was theatre at its best.
Just a little shrill on the ears.

To all our friends around the world … Happy New Year!

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Mumbai, menopause and madam – Udaipur

A Hotel Fit For A Princess

This is the Hotel Ambrai…

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…located on the shores of Lake Pichola in Udaipur, overlooking the City Palace…

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…and the luxury boutique Lake Palace Hotel, formerly a summer palace built by Maharana Jagat Singh II in 1743. The locals loved to proudly tell us that the James Bond film Octopussy, was shot there. In fact, that was where the infamous character Octopussy herself lived.

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This is the teen on the lawns of the Ambrai getting a much needed doggy-romp-fix with Toro and Leo, the dogs of the owners of the hotel.

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We’ve had to restrain ourselves from disturbing the street dogs, so this was a welcome treat.

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These are the owners of the hotel.

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BUT… The teen and I weren’t staying at the Ambrai.

Oomph noooooo, we were staying here…

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…at the Little Prince Heritage Hotel.

See the doorway across the gravel pit next to the men and the motorbikes?

Our car couldn’t fit through the narrow, winding narrow alleys of the old city where our hotel was located. So we had to walk, dodging the traffic.

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BUT… what the Little Prince Hotel had, that the Ambrai didn’t have, was Addy and Manu, the manager and chef, who welcomed us like long-lost relatives.

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And the Ambrai hotel didn’t have the view from our room of the donkeys carting gravel…

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…and emptying it onto the pile.

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…nor a view of the cow lounging in the sand used to mix with the gravel to make the cement.

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Nor a view of the women carrying the gravel and the sand to the mixer…

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…to lay the cement on the path which we had to negotiate. And yes, there was a moment of contemplation by the teen as she imagined evil mother falling into the wet cement and being set forever in the back alleys of Udaipur.

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Ambrai also didn’t have a view of this woman buying stuff from this street vendor who roamed up and down bellowing his wares from 7am.

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Nor did the Ambrai have the view of this street seller shouting about his pani pooris…

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…a favourite street snack in India, the puri is deep-fried dough stuffed with a mixture of either sweet or savoury fillings like potato, onion and chickpeas.

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The Ambrai didn’t have a view of this old woman peering out through her doorway…

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…nor would you have seen this really cool rooster!

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The Little Prince Hotel, now apparently featuring a Princess, the title bestowed upon the teen by the effervescent Addy, is actually an old house overlooking Hanuman Ghat (ghat meaning steps leading down to the water).

The hotel has eight charming and clean rooms. Upstairs is a common eating area where everyone hangs out…

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…and where Manu concocts the most amazing chocolate pancakes in between chewing your ear off. He’s a wonderful character, widowed with two teenage sons living with his parents in a village 500kms away.

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Further up on the roof more spectacular views of the City Palace are offered…

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…and of that stunning Lake Palace Hotel…

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…and of course, the activity on the roofs below.

This woman bringing in her washing…

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A child playing…

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A couple of gossips checking out the other neighbours…

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Family time…

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Goodnight Udaipur…

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…we’ll miss you.

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Mumbai, menopause and madam – Jodhpur

A working mum doing the best she can

Okay, so there I was complaining that we hadn’t had hot water for five nights.

Then I remembered this little girl. And all of a sudden, my hot shower seemed unimportant.

But let me tell you how I discovered her.

We’d been to the Mehrangarhg Fort and marvelled at the enormity of this amazing structure, standing at about 130m above the city of Jodhpur on the precipice of a cliff.

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I will never, never comprehend how these amazing fortresses – built to keep out the enemy from advancing on foot, or charging ahead on elephants – were constructed up to 600 years ago.

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From the Taj Mahal, built by 20,000 workers over 22 years from marble transported by more than 1,000 elephants…

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…and inlaid with 28 different semi-precious and precious stones…

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…to this Merhrangarg Fort with proportions so colossal Rudyard Kipling called it “ the work of giants”.

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It is only right that it is acknowledged today as the finest Hindu fortress in India, a great complement considering there are a lot, and my dear teen is convinced I want to see them all.

The carvings alone of the palace inside the fort are enough to blow you away.

How did they do it?

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The fort overlooks Jodhpur’s famous old blue city.

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It is believed the Brahmins, the priestly class, began painting their houses blue to set themselves apart from others. Neighbours from other castes began to copy and the tradition has been maintained.

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On the way back from the fort I noticed a worksite where a group of men and women were building a stone wall.

I asked Prakash to stop.

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It fascinates me that although Rajasthani women must veil up after marriage in front of their fathers-in-law in the home, and in front of male strangers on the street, they are considered equal enough to work on construction sites and cart bricks, or wet cement, on their heads.

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And as I watched this stunning woman walk, I saw her stop to wipe the sweat off her brow in front of this tiny child. This tiny, tiny little girl obviously in “day care”, was sitting placidly on an empty cement bag…

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…while her mother laid the cement.

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It was Christmas Day. Not that that mattered to these Hindu women. To them it was just a normal working day, the end of which would probably never include a hot shower.

My first world problem in this amazing third world country was quickly put into perspective.

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Mumbai, menopause and madam – Bikaner

Mum shows rat cunning

“Not much to do here,” the teen announced.

She sounded hopeful. As I’d promised, we wouldn’t visit every fort and every palace in every town we’d stopped. So a morning of no forts, nor palaces, in Bikaner surely meant a morning in the hotel Facebooking her mates.

“Oh yes there is darling. We’re off to the temple of rats!”

About 30kms out of Bikaner is the Temple of Deshnok. Legend has it that the Hindu-born sage, Karni Mata, who was an incarnation of Durga, the goddess of power and victory, implored the god of death Yama to revive the son of one of her clansmen who had drowned in a water tank. Yama refused, but relented when Karni agreed to all her tribesmen being reincarnated as rats until they could be born back into the clan. (Remember, with Hinduism death is just the end of one chapter and the beginning of another, and you go through a cycle of transition until you are reborn.)

So, currently at the Temple Deshnok, built in Karni’s honour, there are about 20,000 black rats hanging about waiting, and hoping I guess, to be reborn.

The teen meanwhile was hoping to be anywhere else but outside this temple.

More than 20,000 rats were inside.

More than 20,000 rats were inside.

Her apprehension turned to dismay when told we had to take off our shoes.
“Of course you do,” she grumbled.
“But it’s considered good luck if they run across your feet!” said perhaps a little too enthusiastically, judging by the look she threw me in return.
And sure enough, there they were. Little furry rodents scampering everywhere or poking their heads out of numerous holes.

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They are revered and if you accidentally tread on one and kill it you are expected to replace it with the rat’s weight in gold – a cause for concern as I watched the teen hopping about in her socks. (I was relieved to discover they now sell little gold and silver replacements to cover for any unfortunate mishaps.)

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“Things good be worse,” (my favourite mantra) “you could be sleeping among them!”

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Any food you give which is nibbled on is considered an honour, but even better is the blessing you receive if you eat food or water that has been sampled by the rat.
NO! Even I drew the line at that one.
Another blessing is to see a white rat as they’re believed to be the manifestations of Karni Mata or her family. Sadly, we didn’t see one.

The rats are fed around the clock to prevent them from leaving the temple. They are fed milk. Lots of milk. Buffalo milk in fact.

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And afterwards, like all of us after a big meal, they enjoy a nap.

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Not a bad life for a rat in the Temple of Deshnok.

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Mumbai, menopause and madam – Jaipur

Monkey business

Next stop after a perfect day at the Taj, was a visit to the Monkey Temple just outside of Jaipur. After all, who couldn’t help but full in love with the stars of the National Geographic television series Monkey Thieves. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ic9fYB_WYg0

We arrived at the temple after a long journey from Agra, stopping at the ancient city of Fatehpur Sikri on the way, only to be mercilessly hounded by relentless touts. One, selling necklaces, wouldn’t give up, sticking his hand through the window of the bus, and persisting until the bus began to pull out.

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We were hot and tired, but hey, after battling the touts, what could a few hundred Rhesus Macaques throw at us that we couldn’t handle? The monkeys shared the ruins of the Temple Galtaji with holy priests and natural springs, the water collected in seven tanks. Thousands of Hindus make the pilgrimage every year to bathe in the water, while the monkeys are attracting more and more tourists.

Natural springs, stunning architecture and monkeys, a perfect way to end our day.

We bought some peanuts and were escorted to the gates by a couple of pushy cows, who only stopped short of asking for money.

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But sure enough, that came inside the gate when we were asked for a camera fee.
I looked around. Okay, we’re here… you can come out now, monkeys.
But none appeared, except for one very tired looking looking fella to our right who, clearly as the only representative of his tribe, had been so stuffed full of peanuts he couldn’t be bothered to ask for more. In front of us surrounding the rubbish-strewn courtyard was an array of rundown buildings, a couple of dogs and a group of men, one of whom told us to take of our shoes and follow.

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Aaaaah, I thought, he’s taking us to the monkeys.
Nup. This Sadhu, holy man, took us instead into a closet-sized dimly-lit temple where he beckoned us to sit down. The teen grabbed my hand practically sitting on top of me she was so freaked out.

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The Sadhu daubed our foreheads with vermilion and pointing to the pictures of his God started an animated sermon in English speaking so fast we didn’t understand a word. But it was when he pulled out a cluster of peacock feathers and started thwacking the teen on the head with them that I began to get the giggles.

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I think you’re being blessed,” I whispered.
“I don’t like it” she hissed while trying to remain polite.
“Just go with the flow… or the feather,” I snorted trying to stifle my mirth.
After he worked me over with the peacock feathers, more incoherent rambling was spewed forth as he proceeded to tie a piece of string around our wrists. Then he snatched our camera and took our photo.

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A long silence followed. Until I realised he was staring pointedly at a dish containing money. I dropped 50 rupees in. He asked for more, but as far as I was concerned we’d been hijacked, and no more money was warranted. I refused and there was no misunderstanding of the grumblings in Hindu aimed at our backs as we squeezed out of his tiny alcove and into the daylight. Had the distinct impression our blessings had been revoked and replaced by some ancient curse.

We put on our shoes and returned to the courtyard to climb some stairs and pass some stagnant filthy pools we could only assume were the natural springs.

Stagnant pool

Stagnant pool

Still no monkeys.

We passed people sleeping….

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A pig….

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A dog….

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A pigeon….

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And a bra in a branch….

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But no monkeys.

We looked ahead and up a hill where a pink building lay. So that was the Temple of Galtaji.

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“We’re not going up there mum.”
I was about to agree, but then I saw it through the zoom lens of my camera. A lone monkey sitting on the wall. Way up there.
“Nooooooo.”
Yep, the teen actually wailed.
Oh yes. We were going up. I was damned if I was going to leave without seeing those wretched monkeys. I’d bought peanuts after all.
So up we went, the teen moaning with every step, until I pointed out that things could be worse and she could be walking up the hill with a suitcase on her head.

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And as we neared the crown of the hill, they started to appear. Out came my monkeys.

Monkey business

They weren’t aggressive, rather gentle in fact, waiting politely to receive a nut or tugging gently on our shirts. A couple jumped on Micky and it was hard to ignore the plaintive cries of the babies who were clearly adept at begging.

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But they were worth every rotten step.
We spent nearly an hour with them among the stunning cliff tops overlooking the city of Jaipur. And then we walked back down with grins from ear to ear, ignoring the rubbish, the stagnant pools and the beggars. We’d seen our monkeys, we’d been truly blessed.

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Mumbai,menopause and madam – Delhi-by-bike

Pedal Power – potholes puddles and poo.

As I watched the teen pick up her pushbike to carry it across the railway tracks I had a split second of the most horrific “what if”.
What if the train came right now? What would I do?
I wasn’t comforted by the site of half a dozen Indians dotted around the tracks picking through the garbage to fill their sacks with trash and on-sell for recycling. That was their normality. Watching my daughter carry her bicycle across a working railway track certainly wasn’t mine. But this was India, and things were done differently.
So, I did what I always do when my daughter and I were pushed brutally out of our comfort zones, I made her laugh.
“Don’t do this at home darling!”
I scrambled down the rubble-strewn slope after her, picked up my own bike and followed her across the railway tracks, my head swivelling from left-to-right, as I urged her to “move it”!

We were in Nizamuddin, a Delhi neighbourhood bordered by a lively market dominated by Muslim vendors and an upper-class residential area. We had joined a group of tourists from America, England, New Zealand, Australia and Holland on a tour called Delhi By Cycle. We had already cycled down the railway platform, where I instinctively warned the teen to keep behind the yellow line, a warning which died on my lips as I saw our group leader continue off the platform, down the slope and proceed to cross the tracks. Just like thousands of Indians do every day. Every year 15,000 of those people die.

Our driver Prakash had picked us up at 6am to meet up with the group at the police station. It was pitch black and the teen wasn’t happy. I imagined there would have been a thousand places she would have preferred to be than standing on the side of a busy Delhi Rd outside a police station surrounded by shadowy figures wrapped in blankets, or indeed lying at her feet.

Once the last member of our tour joined us the rules were explained, such as they were. Our guide Shashi said we were to follow him, when he put his hand out to go left or right we followed. We were to toot our bells (pathetic little tinkles against the might of the Delhi driver’s horn) and we were not allowed to talk on our mobiles while we pedalled. Of course we weren’t.

Off we went. And when I say off, I mean off. Right into the traffic. I hadn’t banked cycling across four-lane highways in the paths of trucks, buses and hundreds of those wretched tuk tuks. Traffic in Delhi at 6.30am is a little like traffic on Sydney’s Pacific Highway at 8am on a weekday. You don’t want to be in it!

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I followed behind the teen after telling her to ignore every safety rule she had ever been taught and to just keep going, stopping for nothing or no one. I watched her keeping close to Shashi but turning around often to make sure I was right behind. And I was. The others in the group knew not to overtake and come between us, they understood our need to be tight.

Cycling through the narrow alleyways of the slums was another challenge. The teen couldnt get through quickly enough but it was torture for me to ride past when there was so much to take in. So much to absorb. I could only snatch glimpses of the lives I was pedalling past, feeling conflicted with every thrust of the pedal. Was I some faceless voyeur to these families? Was this something I needed to see to feel?

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We cycled through rows of washing, wet jeans and shirts slapping our faces, we passed people eating, children discoloured from dirt laughing and playing ball, men ironing clothes with huge rustic irons heated from coal. We pedalled over potholes, puddles and poo. Lots of poo from who knew what. We dodged dozens of dogs lying across our paths and refusing to move, goats tethered to doors and a cow so at ease with its sacred status I’m sure it laughed when I nearly came off trying to avoid it.

After 15kms our bums were sore and our legs were like jelly. But we felt good. We had learned so much more about each other and how far we could be pushed. I learned to step back and trust her, while she learned that sometimes rules were meant to be broken and common sense had to relied upon in huge doses. The teen showed lots of it that day, managing in the process to eliminate a couple of those rotten “what ifs” from that enormous list which embedded itself in my brian from the moment she was born. I know now that if a train had come hurtling down the track she would have moved a hell of a lot faster than her mother.

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Mumbai, menopause and madam – Delhi

A bright hotel dimmed by the outside

Okay so at 1am in the morning our first impression of The Hotel Bright wasn’t too well, er, bright.

Our driver Prakash helped us out with the bags, and the three of us stared at the narrow staircase leading who knew where.

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At least we have Prakash and the car I thought.

Prakash was at Delhi airport to meet us, a clean-cut looking gentleman, with gold and ruby earrings in his ears. No turban, nor beard, a relief for the nervous tween who related more to bling than beards. Both of us followed blindly behind him as he marched off with our luggage trolley, until we noticed where we were. We were in the middle of the kerbside lane, the airport traffic weaving around us. We jumped up onto the kerb, stalking Prakash from the side, who still as happy as a clam, continued to storm the traffic until he found a sloping access point to the kerb and pushed the trolley up into the car park. We had a four-wheel drive, clean and comfortable, and made our way to our hotel at Connaught Place.

Prakash got us to our street, but couldn’t find the hotel. This is of course is when you start to doubt the hotel even exists, especially when you have booked it over the net. He eventually stopped the car and got out to ask someone.

That’s precisely the moment when the teen had her first raw experience of India. An old woman dressed in a ragged old sari tapped on her window, frightening the life out of her. Clutched in her gnarled, withered hand was a cluster of sagging balloons, she pointed to her mouth with her other hand.
“What does she want mummy?”
Funny, but my immediate thought was that the teen hadn’t called me “mummy” for what seemed years. Clearly, this was a “mummy” moment.
“Food darling, she wants you to buy a balloon so she’ll have money for food. But you know we are not giving it to her.”
I had already explained to the teen that we would be ignoring all pleas from beggars.
“It will be a never ending trauma if we don’t,” I said. “You smile, say no thank you, and look straight ahead.”

The teen followed procedure, but I could tell her peripheral vision was working overtime, as the woman continued her tapping and pointing to her mouth.
Prakash returned to the car.
“No problem madam, your hotel is just back up the road.”

Now here we were at the bottom of a very dodgy looking stairwell. Well, there’s no way but up from here, I quietly rationalised. With my new very best friend Prakash following behind we made our way up two flights of narrow stairs to arrive on a landing sporting a sofa encrusted with dirt and cratered with huge holes. Graffiti adorned the walls, until we looked closer and realised it was actually the address of the hotel scrawled across the wall. Either way, It was not looking good, and the already very stressed teen was starting to panic.

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Was the landing our room? The sofa our bed? Funny the things that pop into your head at 1am in a hotel in Delhi you booked over the Internet.

We saw a door ahead, stepped through and our despair turned to hope. Inside was a simple, but clean foyer, where a sleepy attendant stood to his feet and called the boss. An officious looking man and a porter bustled in and after filling in our paperwork and arranging to meet Prakash at 10am the next morning we followed the porter to our room and it was delightful. The first thing the teen noted was the”normal toilet”, the second that there was free wi-fi. I noticed the shower and the toiletries. My gamble on the net had paid off.
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We fell into bed, but sleep was elusive as I contemplated the huge challenge ahead.

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Mumbai, menopause and madam – Tears and fears

A reluctant passage to India
It hit me like a ton of bricks. As I watched my daughter cling to her grandfather, I wondered if this time I had had bitten off more than I could chew.

We were at Sydney airport ready to catch our flight to India and the teen was having a major meltdown . She didn’t want to go, it was as simple as that. And that’s when it hit me. In all my years of travelling and sometimes taking absurd risks, I had never been responsible for someone else. And here I was taking a 14 year-old girl to a country I had never visited but predicted would be challenging and confronting, a sensory overload for both of us. Was I mad?

Grandpa’s face was torn as he looked over the sobbing teen straight at me. He wasn’t reproachful, just powerless to help her. I hugged my friend Susan who’d been with me on some of my previous adventures and whispered in her ear.
“Is this the stupidest thing I’ve ever done?”
“Possibly, but it’s a very Wendy thing to do. And there’s no turning back now, just go do it.”

The teen cried her way through the queue to immigration and it was while I was putting our documents back in my bag that I realised I’d left our Delhi hotel vouchers behind. I couldn’t believe it. I’d been obsessive about sorting the paperwork the day before, but I’d also been distracted by a weeping, sullen teen who’d terrified herself with research about terrorist attacks, poverty and crime. She was convinced we would never come home. As for the vouchers I had planted copies of my vouchers and passport pages everywhere throughout our luggage, it was no major setback, just a reminder to be more focused.

Travelling through duty free to our boarding gate the teen perked up considerably. Mainly because her friends were there every step of the way to Gate 61 encoursging her and supporting her. A constant stream of messages of poured onto her iPod. Anyone would think she was going into battle. i guess in her eyes she was.
Her friends joined us again in Singapore during our one-hour stopover, the teen’s face a picture of delight as soon as she connected with the free wifi. One by one there they popped up on the social network like meerkats on patrol, the teen joining in their conversation thousands of miles away with gusto.

Clearly her goofy mates weren’t missing out on their passage to India .. they were coming with us.
Next stop Delhi.

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First-date sex no substitute for love

Having sex after one or two dates is okay apparently.

Good luck with trying to explain that to your hormonally charged teenage daughter surrounded by boys too cute to ignore.

According to a panel on Channel Ten’s A Can of Worms, first-date sex is fine. Model Jennifer Hawkins showed a little more restraint in a magazine interview, stretching the romance to two dates being enough before having sex with a new partner. ‘’For self-respect and for the relationship to move forward,’’ she said.

Move forward to where?  Learning he can’t hold a conversation and that his idea of fun is pulling wings off small insects? And how does keeping a lid on the libido for just two dates empower a teenage girl with self respect when she’s flitting and giggling with undeveloped instincts from one boy crush to another?

I understand sex among teenagers today has become more of an inevitability than a liability, but I do wonder about the random sex some young girls are having with multiple partners before they’ve even left school.

While this first-date-let’s-bonk formula may prove satisfactory for older women a little more savvy and confident about the opposite sex, I doubt it works well for vulnerable teenage girls. Sure, it’s more acceptable these days for even ‘’nice’’ girls to ‘’put out’’, and pregnancy can be prevented, but as a result the pressure for girls as young as 12 to be sexually active has increased dramatically.  Then there’s the issue of our girls feeling compelled to compete with the boys at every level. Along with drinking, swearing and fighting, they believe having casual sex with as many partners as they like is simply their right of passage. What’s always been acceptable for the gander has now become the norm for the goose.

Yet, interestingly, if you gather a group of girls in a room together and ask them how many sexual partners they’ve had, they’re more than likely to halve their answer. Why? Because no matter how much they believe they can match the boys, when it comes to the mating game they know full well the rules are still set in prehistoric stone. Yes our girls can become bankers, engineers and astronauts and have babies along the way, but they’ve gained no street cred when it comes to sexual promiscuity. Sleeping around is still only seen as impressive by the studs in the boys’ club, it doesn’t equate to the girls.

But how do we explain these double standards to our young daughters when other high profile young women, often seen as role models, tell them sex is so unimportant it’s okay to do the doona dance after a couple of movies or shakes at McDonalds? Forget the kiss at the door to say goodnight, go the whole way straight away. It’s empowering!

What these girls are failing to understand or learn is that their real power lies in saying no to every Tom, Dick or Harry who takes them on a first date. In an age when sex has become almost an expectation it’s vital we teach our girls how to harness and develop this power instead of behaving like a goose and giving it and their self-respect away.

Are our teenage girls enjoying too much sexual freedom? 

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