notes from a small internet cafe

The autorickshaws in Bikaner are generally the same round type I remembered from Sri Lanka, though a more unified black and yellow colour scheme which appears to be required by law. In Udaipur, and almost everywhere else since, slightly smaller, rounder trishaws with the light mounted on the wheel rather than the body and a paler yellow front are more popular. The ones in Chittor are similar, but unique to that burg have a weird angled roof, open at the back with two extra seats taking advantage of the fact. The larger, also packed-to-the-gunwales trishaw minibuses (or Tempos) aren’t popular in Bikaner or Chittor, but in Bundi, the lange-snoot wooden-framed ones which I for some reason really like are popular, whereas in Udaipur off-cream flatfaced ones with knurled silver railings are more in vogue. Jodhpur and Jaipur have large quantities of the newer flatfaces, all glaring yellow and glossy black. The drivers, in every city, are uniformly insane.

Let’s examine my experience in Rajasthan thus far in terms of the weapons. I’ve visited and examined at length the armouries of every fort, crammed with fabulous four-barreled snaphaunce pistols, camel guns, elephant guns, captured WW1 German machine guns, mountain guns, great cannon, a huge bombard stolen from China (fuck knows how), Afghan jezails, muskets, bolt-action rifles, submachine guns, heavy machine guns, autocannon, anti-aircraft guns, throwing knives, recurve bows, weird arrowheads, battle-axes, war hammers, mattocks, bladed and spiked maces, spears, lances, straight swords, curved swords, serrated swords, pata sword-gauntlets, sword bayonets, katars, khandas, urumis, talwars, spike bayonets, tusk bayonets and guns which fire arrows. The Bikaner armoury was the best, the Udaipur palace decent, Meherangarh frankly disappointing past the Sword of Akbar (but it had a battery of the most excellent cannon, from what was basically a lead pipe on wheels to a nice WW2-vintage QF 105mm). Never thought I’d see the day, but I’m weaponned out.

That’s just it: I’ve seen everything there is to see. I’ve seen it; been there, done that, had the T-shirt thrust in my face by eager red-toothed vendors. That which would make me want to clamber around and giggle with polite insanity now just raises a smile, and sometimes a camera. That applies to just about everything now: the food, the informal-to-the-point-of-anarchy approach to transport, the birds, the cows and pigs wandering through the streets, the scenery, the filth, the chaos, the pollution, the litter, the poverty. Even the giant-arse forts: once you’ve seen Kumbhalgarh, no other castle or fortification in the world can possibly hold your interest (except Taragarh, because it’s like a rather smaller Kumbhalgarh with the crumbling, overgrown redolent-with-the-violence-of-ages feeling which I love – which is basically the only thing there is to love, once you’ve seen Kumbhal – about British castles. There are also insane amounts of monkeys, who threw their shit at me). Besides Taragarh, possibly the Great Wall of China.

The individual cities had their high points. Udaipur, basically the only part of the state where water is in evidence, had amazing palaces on the lake, but I was so horribly sick through Udaipur (over about twenty hours, water leaving body by any means available: not fun. Maybe it just wanted to be with the other water in the lake rather than have to stay around in this kid who eats too much salt) that I didn’t get to enjoy them past a half-hearted pedal-boat ride (two kingfishers looked at me evilly and I saw a dead pigeon floating around the jetty). Bikaner didn’t have much exceptional going for it, but it was my first city and so was new and vivid and exciting. Chittorgarh had possibly the worst defence history of any fort (three times it was besieged by a sizeable army, three times the Rajputs inside decided it was hopeless, three times the women and children all jumped on a giant fire while the men put on saffron robes and sallied out to certain death) Jodhpur’s gimmick was that it – the city- was blue. (I shit you not.)

So I’ve had my camel rides, I’ve had hordes of rats crawl over my feet, I’ve sipped opium from a village elder’s palm in a Vishnoi hut. (No, I haven’t the least desire to try it again: it tasted foul and I felt nothing.) I’ve sat on the Jaivana (biggest wheeled cannon in the world), followed an ant road a hundred and fifty metres, been in the Jaipur “observatory” which has several dozen amazing ways to tell the time from the sun, all made of stone and some thirty metres high. The finest miniature painter in the world (so he and the Guinness Book of Records claim) gave me his paint set as a present, and I bought some home-made beads from an upmarket craft shop that is still proud of Clinton visiting it in ’99 (which I didn’t care about, but it was still interesting as a place: I didn’t even know you could actually mould clay like that). Now India has ceased to surprise and is beginning to chafe. I’m done and I want to go home. It’s shocking how jaded you get in a little over two weeks. Travel is narrowing the mind amazingly.

In two days I’m seeing the Taj Mahal, and two days after that touching back down at Heathrow to a History retake and a fixed laptop and a set of watercolours and a British January. Sacks of Beaver and Steve, Swizzels Matlow and Corb Lund merch should be waiting on my doorstep. And apart from the retake, and the weather, and the English coursework I should have done three weeks ago, I actually can’t wait.

Also: Happy 2008, folks.