12 February

Leaving the Leela Palace was sadder than I had imagined. The staff lined up like a family, with hugs and good wishes. I had anticipated a wounding bill for all the room service extras that Michelle’s sickness had required, but none of it was charged. We leave the Leela, resplendent across the misty lake, with every intention of returning, our bank manager’s pale face notwithstanding. 

Apart from a magnificent place to stay, a couple of points stick in my mind. One is that the Leela makes the best hot chocolate of my long drinking experience. Number one used to be at an upmarket food store in St Petersburg, but now the Leela has shot to the front. I asked the chef how he makes it, thinking he may reveal a secret powder additive. He told me: ‘Very straight forward. I like to share my knowledge because goodness will come of it. First you must obtain a block of dark chocolate, sir. Then break into pieces! Prior to that you must have prepared a gouache comprising chocolate and cream. Then melt the chocolate pieces you have broken and mix them with the gouache. Then add milk sir! Heat it all up and pour into a suitable cup.’ That might explain my love for the Leela’s hot chocolate and the likelihood of me running out of belt loopholes if I partook too often.

The other is the Leela toilet paper. If bank paper is about 80 gsm, then the Leela toilet paper comes in at about 10 gsm. This is too indelicate a subject about which to complain to the management or even discuss with other guests as in ‘lovely place, but what do you think of the bum fodder?’ because I’d have to go into awkward detail. If we come here again, and I hope we do, we’ll bring a few rolls from home of the reliable three-ply Quilton. 

At Udaipur airport I laughed at the poor buggers who had booked on the budget Spice Air to go to Jaipur. They faced a squashed-up hour in a little prop plane. We had booked with Air India – and paid a fair bit more in spite of the fact that the Air India Jaipur flight habitually runs four hours late. The bus drove us out on the tarmac and what did we board? A little prop plane for a squashed-up hour. Same as Spice Air. The only saving grace is that Air India doesn’t crash as often as Spice. 

We’ve come down a few notches at the Jaipur Holiday Inn. It is situated opposite a massive roadworks construction site where an overhead railway is being built. So the view is less than inspiring. Next door is a shopping centre with a MacDonald’s. We’d arrived late in the day and wandered in for a careful box of chips and a harmless(?) chicken burger. Michelle was still getting over her food poisoning ordeal and I was coming down with a cold. The restaurant suddenly filled with little kids who rushed to fill up the tables and waited expectantly for a burger and a cup of water each – but only chicken or veg burgers. Beef and pork are verboten. It turned out they were from a nearby orphanage. Many were barefoot, and most needed a good bath. I was curious as to how they spent their time during the day and found out when we left. One little girl from the group, accompanied by her brother carrying a baby, were back on the street begging. This was their occupation, widespread in Indian cities.

We wandered into the shopping centre only to find most of the shops in darkness. An assistant in one clothing shop that was operating explained that there had been a mass dispute with the management over rent and most of the shopkeepers had legged it. Westfield beware.

The massage parlour was still operating however, revealing a severe glowing red interior through the partly open door. It was about as inviting as an abattoir. 

You’d want to take them home.

Today we were supposed to visit a palace and observatory. But last night the dreaded lurgy got me from both ends. My temperature went through the roof and would not respond to Panadol. Michelle decided it was time to call the doctor. He arrived late afternoon carrying the obligatory bag and doing an impersonation of Peter Sellers impersonating an Indian. He looked down my throat, thumped my back, asked my age and weight – but didn’t take my temperature. Then he unzipped a large black pouch from his bag and tipped out a mountain of packaged pills on the bed. With his special surgeon’s scissors, he cut off the required number of pills from their sheets and dolled out five lots for me, along with a set of hand-written, illegible instructions. Michelle then made the mistake of mentioning that she’d been sick too. Ah, he thought, a chance for a double consultation with only one visit. He examined her throat and went back to his pile of medication for some more cutting, allocation and illegible dosage instructions. Although we had a travel insurance plastic card ready and loaded to pay, the little doctor lusted after cash, about A$200 worth which we’ll now have to try and claim back later. Before we started pill popping Michelle looked up the medications on the internet and discovered that most of them were for complaints we didn’t have. One combination antibiotic was illegal everywhere except India. It was certain to make you feel worse rather than better. Subsequently we have thrown away all he doctor’s pills and are using those we brought with us. The doctor’s visit has scared away my fever and we’re ready to resume our program tomorrow. So I suppose it was worth calling him.