Knowing India a little, I’m expecting drama pretty much from the minute we land. Good drama, though – everyday theatre & minuscule tragedies: costumes, drapes, makeup, lights, colours, the periodic crash of badly secured scenery, the roar of the crowd and the unmistakeable smell of what almost certainly isn’t just greasepaint.
Flying from Paro though, the drama starts early: a clear day and you literally brush Everest with your undercarriage. It’s a crazily beautiful view of an unparalleled natural wonder (I don’t even fancy climbing it: I can’t imagine the SQUEEE! if you’re an actual, or wannabe, mountaineer):
So leaving the crystalline peaks of the Himalayas and descending into the hot, gaseous smog of Delhi is an actual and metaphorical comedown. There are sights we haven’t seen here and at least one restaurant that hasn’t been patronised heavily enough for my liking but for now it’s a happy and quick exit, gasping for breath, to the country. Hahaha, of course I jest: an hour and a half in the minibus with Mandeep the driver and the Sahaj the Ledge and we’re not even out the ‘Burbs.
And then we come across this place, Tikli Bottom (I kid you not) and it’s a complete oasis, with a name that makes up for the fact we missed out on Bumthang. A Naval Admiral named Martin (pictured below with Adam) bought the land in the 80s and converted it into a Lutyens-style bungalow and gardens, complete with rambling bougainvillea, peacocks and plenty of insects for Ed, The Critter King:
After a feed comprising macaroni cheese, chicken curry and lashings of Kingfisher beer (and that’s just John’s lunch), we get going on the remaining FIVE HOURS of the journey to Rajasthan. The fat red sun sets before we’ve been going two hours and suddenly those adorable kamikaze juggernauts are now barrelling towards us in a terrifying half-light. But the kids are fortunately unaware of this and mercifully chilled. I’m feeling pretty smug (after I’ve checked for a pulse: this lack of scrapping is… weird) but it’s mainly the mattress of macaroni and the marvels of Mandeep’s manoeuvring through the Crash Bandicoot traffic that accounts for a soporific calm in our minibus of joy.
Speaking of buses of joy, the next morning we encounter one of the great visual clichés of India: the overstuffed public transport. It’s wedding season and Sahaj reckons this one’s taking the ladies to a big bash. Major FOMO.
But, hey, we’re off to India’s Most Haunted Fort so WHO’S THE WINNER NOW?* Bangarh Fort was built, sacked and abandoned in less than a century but it’s had a lucrative afterlife as a site for spook-hunters from Delhi and further afield.
There’s the usual flowery tale trotted out as to how and why it got its resident spectres, involving a sexpot maharani and a covetous caretaker who was also a magician that lived in a pergola that overlooked the fort. Now, I believe in ghosts about as much as I believe in God/god/gods but it’s pretty persuasive when you hear that the Archaeological Society of India themselves are too shit-scared to put their site HQ inside the fort’s walls, as is the usual practise, and are instead based down the road, where they sleep with their blankies and the light on. The place is in lockdown after dusk, by Government Decree. Bangarh is officially Majorly Dangerous, Saturated with Spooks and Pretty Heavily Cursed. But other than that it’s a great day out with the kids:
Unless, that is, you’re an amateur drone enthusiast like Adam. He decided to launch his precious piece of kit from the top of the fort and promptly got it stuck in a tree. Two hours of searching in scrub on a mountain in the midday heat without water later and Adam’s beginning to believe in ghosts, curses and karma, all in one. I couldn’t document it because I was back at the hotel sunbathing in my knickers with a drink. But I did get a snap of his trainers afterwards:
And Sahaj found the drone so all was well with the world and yah-boo-sucks to your poxy curse. Methinks the drone might stay in it’s box for a few days. As might Adam.
*The wedding ladies still, clearly.