In A Jam from Jaipur

It was a later start again this morning – 8.00am – but before we went along for breakfast we had to pack our cases and leave them outside for collection; we had the long journey almost back to Delhi to undergo today for our final night in India.   😦

Afterwards we assembled in reception and watched the cases being loaded on as we awaited the call to board our bus.  Then everyone piled on and once more we were on our way.

En route we were given the chance to photograph the distinctive Hawa Mahal (Palace of Winds).  The palace is a five-storey pyramidal shaped monument that rises 50 feet (15m) from its high base. The top three floors of the structure have a dimension of one room width while the first and second floors have patios in front of them. The front elevation, as seen from the street, is like a honeycomb web of a beehive, built with small portholes. Each porthole has miniature windows and carved sandstone grills, finials and domes. It gives the appearance of a mass of semi-octagonal bays, giving the monument its unique façade. The inner face on the back side of the building consists of need-based chambers built with pillars and corridors with minimal ornamentation, and reach up to the top floor.  It certainly was a sight to behold.

Off we went once again and, when I wasn’t looking out of the window, I spent the time reading my Kindle, listening to music on my iPod, chatting or napping.  We weren’t due to arrive at the hotel until around 4.30pm, but Peter said we’d have plenty of comfort stops, including lunch, on the way.  Of course, there was also Harry, with his bottomless basket of cold Kingfisher beer.   😉

We arrived at a small, unassuming rest stop for lunch.  While they had a full Indian and Chinese menu, we decided just to settle for a sandwich; Trevor had a cheese toastie and I had fried egg.  We knew we’d get a big meal tonight.

Afterwards we had a little browse around the gift shop, but it was really just selling the same sort of stuff as all the other places we’d visited, so we didn’t bother buying anything.  We decided to make use of the restrooms, as we didn’t know how long it was going to be until the next stop.  As usual, we had to hand over a 10 rupee note to the “toilet attendant” for a couple of sheets or toilet paper or a paper towel.  At least the loos we’d been to on this trip had not been too nasty; we’ve seen much worse!

Back on the bus we set off again, down the dual carriageway and just whiled away the time.  Our driver Malekith, however spoke briefly to Peter, who advised us that there was a tremendous traffic jam ahead, a tailback of about 25 kilometres.  Oh dear!  We would, if we got the chance, try to find another route to get us to the hotel on time.

Around 3.15pm we felt a slight lurch in the bus, then heard a sort of flapping sound.  It could only mean one thing – a puncture.  Malekith pulled the bus over at the first opportunity he had, which was in a sort of truck stop next to what looked like a spare tyre place – India’s equivalent of Quik-Fit.   🙂

Peter said we could either stay on the bus or get off and stretch our legs, as long as we didn’t venture far, and certainly to keep off the busy road.  We decided to get off and have a look at the damage.

The burst tyre was the rear offside inner tyre (as coaches have four wheels, i.e. 2 x 2 at the rear) so Malekith and Harry had to remove the outer wheel to get to the inner one.  The wheel nuts were on very tight and, while Harry slowly jacked up the bus, Malekith had some considerable effort loosening each of the nuts before the wheel would come off.  Then he had to repeat the process with the wheel that contained the burst tyre.

As all this was going on, we walked about while some people just stayed on the bus.  Arriving and departing wagon drivers left their cabs and came over to have a look, or to help.  The outer wheel was eventually placed on the inside, and the next step was to retrieve the spare wheel to put on the outside (if you get my drift).

What a job it turned out to be!  The spare wheel was screwed onto a bracket under the front of the bus, the only access to which was via a removable plate at the front.  The space was tiny and, even though the two Indian guys were slightly built, a very tight squeeze, with hardly any room for manoeuvre.

To cut a long story short, it was a full hour and a half before the wheel was replaced and we were ready to continue on our way.  The time was now 4.45pm – so much for getting to the hotel by 4.30pm.  In fact we’d be lucky to make it for 6.30pm.

Once we were underway again, Malekith said he would try another route in order to avoid the traffic tailback.  So we went so far up the dual carriageway before turning round and coming back down the other side.  We passed the truck stop where we’d stopped to change the wheel, and noted that it was a full two hours since we’d arrived there; in other words, we’d made zero progress in two hours.   😦

Dusk was now falling as the bus made its way through the minor roads and backstreets.  Some of them were really poorly lit and it was difficult to see anything out of the window.  We went so far until we found ourselves in the middle of an enormous queue of lorries, stuck fast bumper to bumper (quite literally, you would not have been able to put your finger into the space between the bumpers).  Nothing was moving at all, and the incessant honking of horns didn’t help matters at all.

Our driver then decided he wasn’t staying in the queue, and pulled out to overtake the long line, on the wrong side of the road.  There was a collective sharp intake of breath when we saw the approaching headlights of a vehicle coming straight at us, but as ever it was a case of “the biggest wins” as the car swerved off the road at the last minute, in order to let us past.

Thus we continued our journey in a similar manner; in fact there were four lanes of traffic crammed into a two-lane road, and we watched in disbelief as two trucks went along, neck and neck with neither being prepared to give an inch; in the meantime a guy on a motorbike blithely sneaked through the space between them, with inches to spare.

The hours slowly passed – 7.00pm, 8.00pm and 9.00pm – still no sign of us reaching our hotel.  There was nothing we could do about it, so there was no point complaining.  This was the British “stiff upper lip” – we just had to get on with it.   🙂

Eventually the traffic thinned out and we were told it was about 40km (28 miles) to the hotel.  We arrived at around 10:15pm and thankfully left the bus, stretching out the kinks in our backs and legs.  We were told we could go straight to the dining room for our dinner, but first of all we wanted to go to our room and get washed and get some of the day’s dust and grime off us.

The hotel was the Trident Gurgaon, and was probably the poshest and grandest one we’d stayed at this trip.  It was all pillars and columns, high ceilings and doorways, and a fantastic atmospherically-lit outdoor pool surrounded by lily ponds and fountains.  It was a pity we’d arrived over five hours late, and had missed out on some of our time here!   😦

The meal was, as ever, delicious and I washed it down with a glass of sauvignon blanc wine (too late for Happy Hour this time!)

By the time we’d finished our meal we were too tired to go to the bar for a nightcap, so we just went straight to room 103, at the end of a scented corridor.  The beds were big and comfortable with crisp cotton sheets and plump pillows. We looked forward to a good night’s sleep.

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