Monday, April 16, 2012


Actress Judy Dench amidst Jaipur’s colourful splendour

I enjoy nothing more than a good English comedy and I wasn’t disappointed with a recent visit to the cinema to view a new release film ‘The Exotic Marigold Hotel.

Now this particular outing was a movie session taken with two younger friends from Straddie.  I left it to them to choose a film of their choice and they were all abuzz with this latest big star film starring a clutch of England’s best known golden oldies.

Maybe they chose this particular film in deference to my advanced years.  I’m glad they did because just a few minutes into the action I sat up with a jolt.  I knew the ‘Marigold’s location well, I had walked the same streets leading lady Judy Dench was strolling through in the movie.  I too had  been dazzled by the town’s colour and vibrant atmosphere.  As the movie’s plot unfolded my memories travelled back almost 35 years, to my first visit to India, a trip shared with my then 17 year old daughter, Jenny.


The year was 1978 when Jen and I set off on our great adventure, a month roaming through India.  We started in Nepal travelling to distant parts of the country from Katmandu,  stayed at Pokhara’s then new Fish Tail Lodge, falling under the spell of the great towering mountain the beautiful and remote lake side lodge was named after, Machapuchare.

We spent a magical few days there riding bikes into the town, boating on the lake, talking to Tibetan refugees who in those early days of invasion and despair had sought shelter from its neighbouring country. In every direction we enjoyed  the snow capped peaks of the Himalayas.

It was the best of introductions to the Indian Sub Continent.

From there Jen and I travelled on to Delhi and then further north to Srinagar and the snow covered town of Gulmarg which boasted the highest golf course in the world, but would later be a pivotal point in the Pakistan India border skirmishes over Kashmir’s dominion.

As we progressed through the country we did all the touristy things, stayed on a houseboat on Kashmir’s lakes, visited the Taj Mahal, wandered the streets of Agra and Delhi, Bombay and Madras.  But one city we chanced upon proved more colourful and enticing than any of the others.

Jaipur , Rajasthan’s capital, where the women wore saris of such diverse colour they seemed like bright rainbows flitting through the alleys and byways of the bazaar.

Jaipur where the turban makers went about their specialized work creating colourful and commanding turbans for ceremonial occasions.

Jaipur where the monkeys created havoc in the corridors of our city hotel.

Jaipur where Jenny ran into a school friend from Brisbane also touring with her parents but moving across the country in an opposite direction to us. 

Familiar faces in a sea of strangers. We had a great deal to talk about which we adults did over glasses of tepid beer cooled down with dubious cubes of ice.  (Obviously one of the reasons my Reluctant Traveller, on this occasion safely ensconced at home, avoids moving too far from his comfort zone.)  The girls chatted, we adults poured over maps, exchanged travel stories, it was a lovely diversion and a welcome break to our routine.


Then the time came to say goodbye. We moved south, Jenny’s friend and her parents moved north.  We took copious photos and movie film as the following snaps show.

Jen at Delhi's Zoo

Mr Mir and me - below us is Gulmarg's golf course.

Crossing on the punt to the Fish Tail Lodge at Pokhara

Snowbound in Gulmarg - we weren't short of food

Playing in Kashmir's snow.
An elephant ride in Rajasthan
View from a Harem window
A houseboat on Lake Dal, Kashmir
Our photos covered everything under the sun, snow, elephant rides, magnificent palaces and temples, a visit to the zoo, the lakes of Kashmir.  From Katmandu to Srinagar, from Delhi to Agra, Jaipur, Bombay – as it was still known,  Madras and many points in between. Far too many happy snaps to show here.

Not all the photographs were picture perfect, actually as Jenny said at the time, ‘Mum your eyesight must be faulty, all the ones you took are out of focus’.  My excuse  then of course was, that the age of digital cameras was still half a century away. Clearly I must have been clairvoyant.

But somehow I doubt even a digital model could have made a difference to what happened next.  Because while all our other photos were as picture perfect as our amateur efforts could manage, ones taken in Jaipur itself simply vanished into thin air.

Maybe, just maybe in the case of Jaipur there was another reason, a reason too unfathomable, too inconceivable to understand  or even comprehend.



Jaipur should have been a happy and memorable stopover on our  India jaunt, but for two reasons it wasn’t.

The second reason we wouldn’t discover for some months.

The first reason though, was encountered at the ramshackle little airport we were due to fly out of for our next stop at Jodhpur where we  both were looking forward to staying in a palace in the middle of a lake.

Back in those days my daughter was an art student, she was and still is very gifted with sketchbook and pencil.  After arriving on time we then faced numerous delays with our scheduled flight, each delay triggering yet another passage through immigration  with body searches, handbag and luggage perusal and the same inane questions.

We took it all in good humour with  Jen chatting to the young teenage soldiers of similar age who were toting rifles in a half hearted way.  After all the age of terrorism was still decades away and the airport was hardly important enough to warrant attack.

After two false alarms, boarding the departing aircraft, waiting, waiting for take off; two eventual announcements that the ‘aircraft was broken’, and two return walks across the hot tarmac to the even hotter little terminal, tempers, including ours were beginning to fray.

Then our third call to the immigration and customs check.  I was ahead of Jenny, she was two or three passengers behind me.  I had reached the departure lounge, waiting for her to appear when I heard her voice calling me.  Not a happy, ‘Mum, where are you? cry...’

Instead an indignant cry for help, ‘Mum, I’ve been arrested!!

The Army Major in charge of the teenage soldiers had been observing Jenny and her sketchbook.  Apparently this was a man weighed under with responsibility and with a colossal imagination.  He had come to the conclusion that my teenage daughter was a spy.

Faced with the reality of a sketchbook full of pen and ink sketches of everyday life in India he was forced to back down.  But not before we changed our minds about Jodhpur and demanded passage instead on the next flight out to Bombay, an aircraft now on the tarmac revving up for take off..


Of course the airport bungle didn’t  affect our love affair with India and its people.  In all other respects we were well looked after wherever we went.  I must have loved the place, in ensuing years I returned there again and again.

On our return to Brisbane we discovered Jenny’s school friend had suffered a crippling accident in India a week or so after we said our goodbyes in Jaipur. 

And while we have a pictorial record of every other nook and cranny of India that we explored from top to bottom on that first trip, we have none taken in Jaipur itself.

A number of photos were taken of the girls together but the developed film was blank.



Such a strange and curious outcome back then in 1978... sitting there in the darkness of the cinema watching Maggie Smith and Judy Dench discovering their modern day Jaipur in 'The Exotic Marigold Hotel', you can understand my enjoyment of this great movie was tinged with more than a little sadness for what might have been.

Do see the movie if it comes your way, it is very entertaining.  And while the city itself has grown immensely in the intervening 35 years since last I was there, the colour, the atmosphere and many of the fine old buildings were just as I remembered.


Robyn Mortimer ©2012

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