Friday, February 12, 2010


First I am pampered by the Taj. Then I am pampered by two Dutch friends who take me to a Burmese restaurant, Bombas, for dinner followed by a party at the home of a wealthy Delhiite. The dinner is as fine as any I have eaten. Prawns? Naturally - raw tuna, tender beef, chicken salad, etc etc etc etc etc, plus a gently lethal but delicious drink, the Bombas special. The Delhiite's home is modern and built on a lagoon. Water reflects overhanging trees. An Italian male struts his stuff in golden shoes and platinum self-regard. Two young women, Brits from west London via Solihull, grandparents from the sub-continent, coo their admiration of Italian men. Italian men have such wonderful taste. The Italian preens while the wicked ones extend their admiration to cover every aspect of male peacock self-adulation. Perhaps an hour passes before doubt creeps beneath the Italian's carapace. Doubt turns to certainty. He flees. His persecutors prance in victory. The Dutch drop me back at the Taj. Wash, teeth in a glass, heart medication, read birthday Emails from my children then lie in bed and call Bernadette. I wish she were here.
But a good birthday?
Yes, one of the best.

Thursday, February 11, 2010



1) happy helmet

2) good place to work

Before leaving England, I wrote in a article for the London Times that I would beg, borrow or steal for a night at the Umaid Bhawan Palace in Jodphur. The Umaid Bhawan is Paradise for any lover of art deco. I spent two nights in blissful comfort. Yet more important were the days of exploration with one of the front desk managers and the discovery of so many extraordinary treasures of the period.
For Christmas I stayed in the Taj hotel at Gwalior, a palace built by the Maharaja as a guest cottage for King George V. I was suffering from bronchitis which antibiotics had failed to shift. The chef blended a herbal tea that worked a miracle.
I write of these visits today because I am being so totally spoiled and need to say thank you. Thank you not only for the comfort and the cosseting, but even more for the welcome. One of the managers, Derek, yesterday took me for a drive up to the old Portuguese fort. Rather than a courtesy car, we used the hotel work jeep. Because they didn't think of me as a guest, Derek explained, but as a member of the Taj family. Derek is Goan with University degrees in everything from ecology to law. I had lunch today at the restaurant above the sea - pan fried sea bream. Delicious! Derek arrived with a two-man Happy Birthday orchestra and presented me with a ribbon-tied coffee table book on Goa. So do I feel special? Yes. Is this part of the Taj experience? Perhaps. And yet there is something more and it for this that I wish to offer gratitude - not only of being made to feel part of a family but of a family of which I am immensely proud.



1)view's good,too

2) birthday cake unveiled

Today is my 77th birthday so please forgive me if I skip ahead to the present. I ride faster than I write - a disadvantage for a travel writer - and, though trying to catch up, have been unsuccessful. Daman is behind me. So is the charming small coastal town of Murud south of Mumbai/Bombay and Malvan a little north of the Goa border. And, yes, I have eaten many a prawn!
For my birthday I am staying as a guest of the Taj Hotel Group at their beach resort in Goa. I am housed in a small cottage, really a luxurious minny suite, though with a private garden rather than a terrace. I have been writing this morning at a table in the garden. A waiter has delivered a chocolate birthday cake with candles and a card from management. I feel treasured - a sentiment echoed this morning by a couple from the Cambridgeshire Fens.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010


I have written often that Om never did it for me. Camerones is my key to a state of blissful oneness with the universe, the Spanish word for prawns - though Prawns doesn't carry the same mystical power. No need for the Lotus position. An upright chair at a table is fine and a waiter for Guru. “Camerones,” I pray, “Grilled with chillies and garlic...” or in a spicy Veracruz tomato sauce. Oh, the incense...
Rajasthan, being a desert, doesn't do prawns.
Now I am into Gujarat. Veradora is a one night way station. Ask for directions and I draw a blank while Baroda (the old name) achieves an immediate response (nor did any Indian I met at the Jaipur Literary Festival speak of Mumbai or Mollywood). I digress. My original intention was to explain why I am speeding down the main highway for the coastal town of Daman, once a Portuguese territory. Daman has good restaurants serving great sea food.

Monday, February 08, 2010


Good-bye to the not-Maharaja and the good people of Dhariyawad. Off again on a narrow road through small villages and lush fields of wheat, borders shaded by trees, leaves stirring in a light morning breeze, scents of fresh cow dung and freshly irrigated soil. This is the India of my imagination, the India I came to visit. I am a country boy. Send me up to London for four days from my beloved Herefordshire and I am often back on the evening train. So remember, Old Man, don't get trapped again. Stop sight seeing. Start experiencing. Yet sight seeing is easy. A past of temples and fortresses and palaces protects you from reality. Read history rather than the newspaper. Don't notice, as I must, the trail of village women balancing on their heads loads of wood. The weight forces them to take small rapid steps. Beasts of burden, whether with child or cargo, such is their lot. And the men? Still gathered to discuss the implications of Sunday's election. Will this or that permit be more easily acquired? Or Is five years of obsequious attention to a minor elected official wasted? This is India's rural politics.


The hunt is on for giant brown flying squirrels. In fact they don't fly. They glide. And they are nocturnal. The not-Maharaja's majordomo is the expert. We depart at 1730 in the hotel's World War One jeep. So they didn't have jeeps in WW One. Nor have you ridden in the Dhariyawad jeep. It predates suspension. It probably predates God.
The squirrel sanctuary is 18 kilometers up the bad road on which I arrived yesterday. A painter of zero talent has painted squirrels on the tall stone walls surrounding the sanctuary. The majordomo parks on the roadside beside the well outside the gates. The squirrel warden brings a bucket. Well water transforms the jeep's radiator into a steam geyser.
Now for the squirrels. The majordomo connects a powerful flash lamp to the jeep's battery and points to the center tree of three, possibly mangoes, growing between the sanctuary wall and the road. The warden, also with a lamp, assures me that squirrels will materialise at 1845 hours. I sit on a stone bench beneath the trees and wait in company with a small cloud of mosquitoes. Fortunately the mosquitoes dislike Deet. Night descends. Warden and majordomo shine their lamps on the tree. I see a small black face with pointed nose and bright eyes, plump body, bushy tail - at a guess three times the size of the grey squirrels living in the cedar tree shading our garden.
The lamps discover two more.
The warden rushes me directly under the tree. The squirrels disappear. I saw them fly?
“Absolutely, wonderful...” or so I reassure the warden and tip him 100 rupees.
Back we bump to the Fort where I am served an excellent dinner on the terrace. So ends a blissful day. Thank you, Dhariyawad.


Plastic is the magic wand enabling modern travel. Magic is unreliable. I expect the worst each time I insert my card in an ATM. Or to mix metaphors, the Sword of Damocles accompanies me. The thread snaps in Dhariyawad. I refuse to panic. Or I refuse to accept that I am panicking. I stroll back to the Fort, sit on the terrace and call Smile, the E-Bank. The Fraud Department has blocked my card. Someone has been trying to use it with the wrong Pin. Not me. My Pin is etched in my memory with emotional gore. The card is unblocked. I must now institute an unblocking procedure at the ATM. The procedure doesn't exist in India. I consult the staff at the Dhariyawad bank. They advise that the card will probably work in 24 hours, meanwhile why I don't I join them for tea and a leisurely chat...?