Saturday, 6 November 2010

Up, up and away to Udaipur

And so the first of my two safaris has been and gone, yet I’m being a little stingy in my blog entries; only writing enough now to keep you interested. There is just too much to cram into one blog entry, and way too many photos. So tuck in and enjoy, delight in the thrill of riding rural India, and the rigmarole of bureaucracy. (Photo: Punham my Marwari charger)

What a palaver getting my visa was, but at least one that I tackled right. It was hit and miss, very, but it worked out as well as could be hoped. After riding especially down to Birmingham, the morning after arriving back from Slovakia, I was informed they couldn’t accept my application because my postal address wasn’t in their jurisdiction. Believe it or not, I was supposed to deliver it to Cardiff, a journey twice that to Birmingham. Wales is Wales after all, and of course anywhere in Wales has got to be closer to Cardiff than anywhere in England. So I posted it to the postal application centre on the advice of the clerk in their Birmingham office, who assured me it would arrive in plenty of time. Needless to say it didn’t, and wasn’t about to reach me in time for departure, so off I set at 5am the day of my flight for London, to catch it before it was posted. It was a gamble, with nothing more than an unanswered email I hoped they would not post it, if by some miracle they had actually processed it. So I left at 5am from Bangor, the intention was to hit London by the time the office opened, phone them to confirm they wouldn’t post it, then pick it up. Over three hours in one office got me nowhere, except to ensure it wasn’t posted. It had been processed by another London office, the other side of London. Whatever, I just managed to get there before they closed, breathing a long sigh of relief when they produced it. It was already in the envelope ready to be dispatched up to Wales. (Photos: 1] Drey Camel- Nr Udaipur, Rajastan; 2] City Palace - Udaipur, Rajastan)

So, my first impression of India, bearing in mind I haven’t been here since the early 80’s. Very similar to Sri Lanka, but less Indian. The camel didn’t make it easier, a dray animal, which didn’t really fit in with my preconceptions. I always saw camels as animals you rode, not pulled carts with. Despite having the camera at the ready, I took no photos. Instead I took the chance to sit back and absorb the sights. It was so much quieter than expected, less traffic and less mayhem. It looks dirtier than rural Sri Lanka, more modern in many ways, easily as poor, but not as bad as I’d prepared myself for. I was content to watch it roll past, too tired to do more than idly watch through the car window. This all changed once I’d been here a couple of days and delved into the city of Udaipur. It was absolute mayhem, just how I’d come to expect it here. Chock a block full of traffic, driving every which way, except the one that made any sense. Being taken on a city tour failed to impress me, boy do I ever hate cities! Within five minutes of entering the city palace I wanted out, too many people, being too tired and having no patience. Getting here had been enough of a test of endurance. I only wanted to relax and renew my reserves of energy for the first of the two safaris.(Photo: Typical city street - Udaipur, Rajastan)

The riding centre is out of the town and very quiet, which I certainly won’t complain about. The horses have strange lyre shaped ears, pointing inwards. They are smaller than what I’ve been riding, but fine looking beasts. The day after arriving I meet the mare due to carry me for the two safaris, apparently she’s thrown a shoe and needs a Ferrier in the morning. Whilst not wanting a horse I can’t control, I really hope they haven’t paired me with a plodding old nag. Only time will tell! Apart from feeling so ill the day went well. My riding lesson, the introduction to Royal Marwari horses was cool, even if I did get a bit fed up with the constant attention of my guide/instructor. He isn’t a teacher, though he’d probably dispute that, and it showed when compared with the instruction I received at Tal y Foel Riding Centre. The guy rides well and understands his horses, but isn’t a natural teacher. Which is actually an unfair appraisal, but brings home why I wanted to learn the basics in the UK. Language is needed to teach properly, if there is a lack of understanding you can’t get the point across. A good teacher will change tact and find another way, with a language barrier this becomes harder to achieve. Now I’m sure he will be no problem on safari, as long as he does not keep giving me advice all the time. I don’t need to be told to keep my feet aligned just so, especially when he is doing exactly what he is telling me not to do. “Do what I say, not what I do,” is not acceptable in my eyes; and I should know, I was a very good motorcycle instructor. I only practiced my bad riding habits away from my pupils. But the horses, oh, the horses! They are lovely, their lyre shaped ears fetching, their characters are great and the riding of them is considerably different to the horses I’ve encountered in the UK. They don’t use bits in their mouths, you don’t keep them on a tight rein until trotting, and they are very smooth in a trot. My horse is called Poonham, a piebald beauty who likes to bite other horses. So I guess I can safely stay away from others, without complaint.(Photos: 1] Yours truly looking a right knob in jodhpurs; 2] 1,000 yr old Hindu temple - Somewhere in rural India, Rajastan)

My first Rajastan canter went great despite the guide’s insistence that I hang onto the saddle with one hand, I didn’t. I will admit one arm was flailing around a bit, but I felt fine in the saddle, my backside became firmly planted and I wasn’t about to get dislodged. The second canter went better, I took note of the earlier criticism, kept my arms tucked in and looked much more the part. They ride with only one hand on the reigns in Rajastan, keeping very slack reigns at a walk, only shortening them once trotting or cantering. So the technique is to keep the one hand the same, at a long reign, whilst sliding the other along the reins, this making them shorter. Easy eh? Actually it is a natural action once you get your head round it, initially it was a slight communication problem as the guide has a limited English vocabulary and his accent is quite hard to understand when he speaks my tongue. (Photo: Temple carvings - Heart of Rajastan)

The ride for the first day of the safari yet again improved my confidence and familiarity with horses, I’m sitting better, settling into canter quicker and being able to get the horse to do my bidding rather than just follow the pack. She does not want to stand still though, definitely not if any others are making tracks. She seems to want to veer slightly to the right as well, this has made me hold a shorter left reign to keep her straight. My saddle wasn’t straight, keeping me slightly off balance and allowing the loss of the right stirrup a couple of times. It’s all been good though, thoroughly enjoyed all the riding and getting more confident all the time. We only had a half day’s riding but it was great, a trip through rural India, lots of piss poor villages and very friendly and curious people. We also went to visit a 1,000 yr old Hindu temple, the reliefs were lovely, but not too sexual. As with most Hindu temples, it was highly detailed, but in comparison to those I saw in Sri Lanka under decorated, or is that less gaudy? We were accompanied by a bunch of the local kids, who are both numerous and everywhere, but also nice and friendly. They really liked both my tattoos and my dreads, calling them beautiful. I could easily get to like such people! (Photo: Nomad family - Rajastan Countryside)

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