A blog about writing, reading, travelling and great characters I meet in life. I love these things more than cheese-on-toast times trampolines times monkeys.

Saturday, 19 November 2011

No, no, I said bloody NO!....(oh, go on then).

“You know in India, we do not let our wives travel alone.”

A Rajasthani man in his forties tells me this – aka The Father.

My heckles rise. I’ve spent years perfecting my ‘I-can-do-everything-by-myself’ belief system – so it’s still a shock for me in India when men say they don’t allow women to do certain things.

I meet The Father on the train to Jaipur, India's famous Pink City...

I’m heading there to celebrate Diwali. We are sitting at Sawai Modhpur station. The shade inside the carriage is welcome. There’s the smell of samosas and something like mint yoghurt.

The train fills until it’s a packed house in ‘sleeper class’ – ‘festival class’ would be a more fitting description. People squeeze past one another in the aisle with bags and boxes. Happy chatty Indian families sit on the lower seats.

Three ladies in red and gold saris are one berth along from me – their bare feet up on the opposite seat. They have brass toe rings and henna swirls on their hands and feet. Silver and red bangles jangle on their arms. They buy paper cups of chai through the bars of the train window. They sip, chat and laugh.

Children kick off their shoes, clamber to the upper seats. They swing their bare feet.

A mouse zooms past my feet.

Then The Father starts talking to me...

We share a few details about our home towns and where we are travelling.

The Father then asks me if I’m married. I tell him about fictional husband Adam and me – the story comes more naturally now. The Father looks across at a lady in a bright yellow sari and dark eyes – The Mother – she is talking to The Three Children, playfully tapping the youngest boy on the head with a rolled up newspaper.

The Mother finishes off a packet of Kurram Kurram spicy puffs. She pulls from her bag newspaper parcels and a plastic bag. She tips yellow vegetable rice into silver bowls, hands them round to The Father, The Children and an older man – I decide he’s The Grandfather. She gives out bread balls shaped like small muffins.

And that’s when The Father comments how strange it is that I’m a woman travelling alone.

A man comes along the carriage with dozens of long chains of metal zips. The conversation comes to an ends because the Father needs his bag fixed. Skilfully and quickly, the Zip Man makes the repair, 10 rupees his reward.

I watch The Family having their meal...

Three generations pinch rice between their fingertips. They tear off small chunks of bread. They dip their bread into light brown sauce with oil beads on top.

The Family’s meal I’m witnessing on the Jaipur train makes me think again about what Eva said to me in the Philippines – about the roles she had chosen of Wife, Home-maker and Mother – the principal reason, she said, why her 10 year relationship with Ivan worked so well.

This is what I can see in front of me here – another relationship where the roles are clearly divided up.

Outside the train window, Rajasthan countryside - pale greens and oranges and browns.

Workers on the land.

Goats and cows.

Stone houses offering glimpses into rural family lives.

And then patches of emptiness.

Just the slow reliable clatter of train on track. So so calming, I find.

And then I melt down at Jaipur Junction...

The train doors spill hundreds of people from the train at Jaipur.

There’s only one exit open from the platform up the stairs to the bridge.

We shuffle along in the heat. People push me towards the stairs. A woman prods me in the side. A rumble of irritation rises in my chest.

There are rickshaw drivers in the platform crowd – they say hello to me from different directions, they say they know a nice hotel for me, they offer me a tour. I say no thank you to them. My focus is on getting up the staircase.

The competing offers from rickshaw drivers continue to come.

‘Madam, come with me,’ one says.

‘Madam, you want guest house,’ another says.

‘Rickshaw Madam?’ a third one says.

‘No,’ I say. To all of them.

I just want to sit down when I’m out of this human swamp and figure out what I’m doing.

On the bridge, there are too many voices competing for my attention. My brain wants to shut out the sounds. I know I shouldn’t allow it to get to me – but ‘should’ is never a word that means much to me.

The fact is this: my nerves are getting scrambled by the headache-level heat, train horns, black dust, over 20 kilos of baggage on my back, questions coming at me from all directions, the rib-ticklers, the back-jabbers, the spitters.

‘Madam, come with me please,’ the most persistent rickshaw driver says as we go down the staircase.

I say nothing.

‘This way,’ he says. Firmly.

I want to swear. The internal censor manages to intervene just in time.

‘Go away.’

‘Madam, do not be suspicious,’ he says.

In my head I answer him back. ‘I’m not bloody suspicious, I just don't like being told what to do.’

Haha. There it is again – my anti-dependent streak. The fierce teenager in me has come out to play – and that always has interesting results.


Thankfully, the other side of my brain kicks in before I make more of a scene – I realise that I’m not handling the situation well. The instinct to walk away takes over. I find some shade outside Jaipur station, sit down, take a breath. Phew!

Three rickshaw drivers follow me – but they stand a little distance away from me now. They fold their arms and watch.

We eyeball each other.

No-one makes any move.

I scan the group of rickshaw drivers.

It’s a game of human chess...with teeth.

The Father’s words ring in my ears...

“You know in India, we do not let our wives travel alone.”

And I’m annoyed with The Father for having a point in this instance.

Outside Jaipur Junction, with the circle of rickshaw drivers around me, I think yes, it would be easier if Adam (aka lion, aka tall bloke who handles stuff!) was here with me.

Still the assembly of rickshaw drivers watch me. Finally, I climb down from my ‘get-out-of-my-space’ stance and agree a price with one of the rickshaw drivers, Raju.

He takes me to a string of guest houses he knows. First guest house is one step up from jail - no window, greasy sheets. Second one is full. Third one is much better – a large window, comfortable bed and the bathroom is clean.

I drop my bags. Breathe out. I always feel so much more human when I arrive at my next lodgings. A sense of home is restored and happiness follows.

I see now from the calm of my guest house that the rickshaw business is highly competitive in Jaipur and it’s not personal.

I go back down to reception to check in...

...and Raju’s still there!

He offers me a tour of the city.

‘Ok Raju,’ I say. I'm laughing now at his incredible persistence. ‘How about tomorrow?’

We agree a time and a price and Raju leaves.

Donald Trump or Alan Sugar could find hundreds of eager apprentices in Jaipur alone.

And I feel a kind of surrendering respect for Raju, for keeping his eye on making the sale, despite my potential to snap!

On my second day in Jaipur...

... the local Jaipur newspaper is counting down to Diwali. Time to get my karmic house in order.

My tour with Raju the rickshaw driver starts with a climb to the top of Isarlat tower.

I can see Jaipur’s colourful rooftops.

And Jaipur’s city gates that punctuate the dense clusters of Lego-shaped buildings.

I see mountains hugging Jaipur city, Nature’s strong sons and daughters that always give me a sense of protection.

I apologise to Raju on the tour. For getting angry with him and the other rickshaw drivers. In return, Raju says that he’s aware that some travellers in India find the attention from rickshaw drivers difficult – ‘but you have to understand Madam, we need to make a living.’

I do understand. In fact, I understand so much that I’m happy to accept Raju’s offer of visiting a jewellery shop and a textile shop as part of my tour of Jaipur. I know Raju’s on commission if I buy, but it doesn’t matter. I understand he needs to make a living and I am interested in looking at the products.

Life is so much easier like this. Accepting the world exactly as it is.

And yes, I do end up buying a gorgeous red bedspread with exquisite gold stitching and matching cushion covers – it is beautifully made and a fraction of the price of a similar item back home. Raju gets his cut on the deal from the shopkeeper.

Well, after three cups of very sweet chai, served to me in a pretty china cup by the shopkeeper, it’s a bloody miracle I don’t buy one in every colour!


  1. As always a joy to read xx

  2. Fantastic, what a magical read! Xxxxx keep it coming xxxx I love the pics too. Such beauty x

  3. lovely stuff, as ever. Rebellious teenager? Never!

  4. As a fellow solo traveller, I so identify with your responses. Great read, Charlotte. Thank you. India is now definitely on the bucket list! Cherie.

  5. Thank you all for reading and taking time to make comments :-) xx

    Sean, you made me laugh. Yes indeed, the teenager in me still lives on!

    Cherie - let me know if you plan a trip to India because I am likely to come here again, I love it.

  6. Great train journey , I felt for you whan you got to destination. [I would have had a'moment' when the mouse ran along the carriage!] You really put me in the location.Hot hot!.love Mum.

  7. Hehe, yes, the mouse was funny! xx Thanks for reading Mum xx

  8. I enjoyed reading this, glad I did not experience too much with the richshaw/tut drivers, not pushy in Kovalam. I wonder if you will be going south?
    vivienne okoroaor

  9. Hi Vivienne, thanks for reading. I'm now in Hampi, heading to Kerala next week after a few days here and in Mysore. I'll be making my way from Kannur down to Kollam - then across into Tamil Nadu xx Please do share any tips for Kerala with me