22 November 2012
Having done all the major sights (7 World Heritage sites in 6 days!), we didn’t really know what more was in store for the last day and a half back to Delhi. Yusef explained that we were headed a little off the beaten track to stay in a merchant’s mansion and do camel rides to a special spot to enjoy the sunset.
We’d gotten quite ‘bus fit’ so the 5 hour ride wasn’t so bad. It helps that there are only 15 of us on a full massive bus, so we have a few rows each to stretch out, spread out our stuff, recline seats and so on. We were double lucky because dumb luck had placed us the furthest back on the bus, so we had the whole back row to stretch out on full length for quality napping. We had cards, books and conversation (with each other and the Aussies) to fill in the rest of the gaps, so it could have been worse.
We arrived at Surajgarh early afternoon and had to walk through the town and up the hill to the fort because the roads in the old town aren’t suitable for busses. The local children were thrilled at all these Westerners and greeted us exuberantly with loud greetings and waving. We must have seemed like royalty to them… And we could see why when we arrived.
Our accommodation was a converted mansion that had belonged to a rich merchant from the area. Their houses are extravagant in every aspect; size, gardens, finishes. We’re told that some of these mansions have up to 200 rooms and 7 courtyards. Sadly, a lot of them are just locked up and abandoned since the families have moved, but they don’t want to sell the properties in case they are perceived to need the money and hence lose face. We were allocated an enormous first floor suite (lucky #7), opening (through a short and wide wooden door with big brass bolt and an old fashioned 22 tumbler lock and key) on a 3 piece lounge with flatscreen tv, in front of a big square bedroom, with king size bed in the middle of the room surround with windows on 2 sides and Arabian arches on the other two. A large enclosed verandah ran the length of the bedroom and lounge, overlooking the big pool below (through weird little windows that were waist-height to knee-height). Completing the suite was a big dressing room with free-standing wardrobe and illuminated mirror, adjacent to a long bathroom with all the usual trimmings.
Yusef had arranged a simple buffet for lunch so, once we’d finished exploring our suite, we headed up to the rooftop terrace to tuck in. Odd combination of fried rice, veg noodles, french fries, onion and potato pakoras, but all very nice. Our camel ride was booked for 4.30 so we’d had every intention of having a swim, but time slipped by while we were chatting to our group mates and soon we were off again for the next excursion.
We met in the fort entryway, where the camels had been corralled and were waiting for us to climb aboard their carts. We split into the requisite groups of 5 and soon were off to parade through the town, as much a spectacle as we were spectators of the surrounds. We were taken to an old Hindu temple and Yusef explained more about the religion, its gods and its practices. All very fascinating – and a lot less complicated than it seemed at first now that the key names are sounding more familiar.
We rounded off the afternoon with a visit to an abandoned fort in town, where we watched the sunset through the arches and turrets on the open-air rooftop terrace. Back at our hotel, Christian and Craig took to the pool, while everyone else was freshening up for dinner, again to be served on the rooftop. The seats had all been arranged in a big U so that we could watch the show (drummer, piper and 2 kids dancing) and very soon it became a mandatory interactive dance lesson, which was quite a laugh.
Finger food snacks were brought around and we were very pleased with the tandoori aloo (potatoes), tikka chicken and barbecue paneer (big blocks of cottage cheese). A buffet followed with the usual assortment of breads, rice and curry, followed by gulab jaman and ice-cream for dessert. We sat up there for hours having beers, laughs and good chats with our tour mates, having a great time. We’re very lucky to have had a fun group.
Yusef joined us at one point for a few drinks and he tells of some of the nightmare groups he has that don’t gel and that just complain about everything. Luckily we’ve had a team of seasoned travellers, all looking to enjoy ourselves and see and do as much as we can.
After a last breakfast (the usual omelettes, toast, beans, bananas and juice), we were back on the bus for our last long haul – back to Delhi. Most of the others had a last night in Delhi, with the exception of the Brits who were leaving a bit later than us on the Friday and the Aussie solo traveller who was leaving on Sunday for China. It was a quiet ride all round, with several members of the group licking their wounds from the festivities the night before.
We got to the airport in near perfect time and had no trouble checking in and getting through passport control, with just enough time to grab a McMaharaj (a Big Mac with curried chicken patties) and get to our gate.