Yet another painful experience

In the interests of research, I tried many different types of massage on this trip – deep tissue, aromatherapy, Balinese, to name but a few.

The strangest was the chakra unblocking head massage, which I had in the Royal Palace at Bundi. The masseuse flicked and scratched my head and pulled hard on chunks of my hair – she must have been the playground bully when she was a child, I decided. The she slapped me repeatedly around the head with a strange hand movement that sounded just like castanets – or maybe it was castanets … I was face down, suffocating in the pillow so I couldn’t see a thing.

My chakras must have been very blocked since they required such forceful unblocking. I felt quite disoriented when it was finally over as I’d been given such a beating – I had to recline on a chaise longue with a cup of tea to recover. I wondered if the King ever had a massage in the royal spa, and if he did, whether they were just as brutal with him. Mind you, looking at a picture of his ancestor –

I don’t think he’d have taken very kindly to a sustained battering from his massage therapist.

The most interesting massage, however, was the Keralan ayurvedic one. My masseuse was a large, no-nonsense girl called Sandra –

who said things like “sit!” whilst shoving my shoulders down hard until I buckled at the knees. Then she said “take all clothes off” and she tied a white paper loincloth around me, so I looked and felt like a sumo wrestler.

I sat on the small stool she’d forced me down onto, while she scratched and banged my head. Not again, I thought – why do I keep shelling out good money for someone to slap me round the head?

Next came the face massage, where I clamped my lips firmly together, not wanting to ingest any of the gloop she was rubbing up and down my face. When she’d finally finished, I thought I’d gone blind – it took ten minutes of blinking and rubbing to clear enough oil out of my eyes for me to be able to see.

The body massage involved heating oil on a primus stove –

which was directly underneath the wooden massage table I was lying on. I could feel the heat from it, and hoped the whole place wasn’t going to go up in flames – I was so coated in oil that I’d have been shallow-fried in a matter of seconds. There was just so much oil and it was so hot – I’d never really thought about what it might be like to be boiled in oil, but decided that I wouldn’t like it much.

The massage involved large round pushing and pummeling movements, punctuated by a hefty slap every time Sandra needed to release some pent-up aggression. She karate-chopped me all over, punched the soles of my feet twice each, and then did that horrible thing where they pull your toes hard and make a snapping noise when they get to the end of each toe – and it hurts.

I alternated between wincing in pain and trying not to laugh – especially when she slapped my stomach, or rubbed my oily boobs up and down so fast that they were practically spiralling by themselves.

Next came the ayurvedic herbal bit. She got the primus going again, heated up the oil and started hitting me with a hot oily club.

It wasn’t literally a club, because it was made of cloth, but the cloth was filled with something solid – possibly wet cement – and she was pounding me all over with it.

Every time the club became bearably cool, she’d stop and I’d feel the flames beneath me as she heated it up again. Then, as she removed it from the hot oil, she’d bang it hard on the table and I’d flinch, wondering which particular patch of skin would be branded next.

Most spas have relaxing music or total silence, but this one was next door to the martial arts display studio, so my relaxing soundtrack was war cries and the clash of swords and clatter of shields. In my more fanciful moments, I imagined I was at Agincourt, having a rub-down while Henry rallied the troops: ‘These wounds I had on Crispin’s day.’

But I don’t suppose many of Henry’s men were injured by ferocious massage therapists wielding oil soaked clubs … the French commanders missed a trick there.

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I’ve seen the future …

… or at least I’ve peered murkily in the general direction, but the pollution-filled haze would have challenged even the oracle at Delphi to see anything clearly.

The pollution in Delhi is appalling – a smelly, foggy haze hanging over the city. It’s just downright lucky, for all my blog readers, that I look so good in a face mask –

Part of the problem is stubble burning, compounded by Diwali fireworks – so this year all fireworks were banned … allegedly –

We took to checking the air quality every morning – and comparing it to places at home –

And just to put Delhi’s pollution into perspective. This is a list of the world’s most polluted cities –

And … this was well before the pollution peaked. A week later it went off the worldwide scale, which only goes up to 500. Schools were closed and people were advised to stay indoors. When questioned about the emergency the Health Minister suggested that people should eat carrots, and the Environment Minister recommended listening to beautiful music. Politicians seem to be just as helpful and useful in India as they are in England.

But I found the pollution at Agra much more shocking. The Taj Mahal is one of the most iconic buildings in the world, and to see it (or not see it) at dawn, when it’s supposed to be wreathed in beautiful pink light, is heartbreaking –

We visited twice, a week apart, and the Diwali-induced crisis was apparent –

Both of these pictures were taken at the same time of day – late afternoon – when the pollution is supposed to be at its best.

But of course, toxic pollution notwithstanding, we had to take off our face masks and indulge in some Bollywood-style pics –

And it did give me the excuse for just one sexy, face mask selfie …

… every pollution-filled cloud has a hazy silver lining – if you can manage to see it.

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Indulging my inner hedonist in Rajasthan

If you want a taste of a royal lifestyle, Rajasthan’s the place to go. It seems that there are as many royal palaces and forts in Rajasthan as there are branches of McDonalds in England; every little town has at least one.

Very fittingly, the word Rajasthan means ‘land of kings’, and all the black and white photos in colonial archives of polo-playing, tiger-shooting, gem-incrusted, old-Etonian Maharajas, were taken in Rajasthan.

Some Palaces are very grand, like the fabulous City Palace in Udaipur –

which is full of the most beautiful architecture and intricate carvings –

But when you look more closely at the beautifully carved panels, you can see that the fretwork is there to create peepholes for the royal ladies to peep out of and see what’s going on in their palace –

as they weren’t allowed out of the ladies’ quarters to take part in any of the fun themselves.

Udaipur is also home to the Lake Palace –

which is now one of the most expensive hotels in the country. As these two palaces are next to each other, one on the lake and one in the lake, I wondered why the Royal Family felt the need to have two palaces in such close proximity – even McDonalds would surely draw the line at two adjacent restaurants?

I was baffled by the Amber Fort at Jaipur when I first saw it –

The Red Fort in Delhi is red so why isn’t the Amber Fort amber? I learnt that it should be pronounced ‘amer’, and refers to the name of the family and not to the colour – how very confusing.

But it does have the most beautiful hall of mirrors –

made from local marble and mirrors from Iran. The cool thing to do, according to our guide, is to take a picture of yourself in one of the mirrors, so it looks like your picture is on the wall. So of course I had to have a go –

These were the grandest palaces, which are open to the public as museums, but we stayed in several smaller royal palaces too. When Indira Gandhi removed the privy purse from these ruling families in 1971, many of them opened their palaces up as heritage homestays, in order to make ends meet.

And it’s a great experience – from the welcome at the entrance –

to the huge bedrooms –

This one had hand painted frescoes on every wall.

We enjoyed aperitifs on the battlements at one fort –

with dinner in the courtyard –

and then a breakfast with a view the next morning –

And if the buildings are old and quirky, so is the plumbing. We had bathrooms with no hot water/no cold water/no water at all … and it’s surprising how quickly you adapt and just give a sigh as you turn off the non-functioning shower, and fill up the bucket and jug that are provided in every bathroom –

And one thing I’ve learnt is that a bathroom with no hot water is infinitely preferable to one with no cold water – in one heritage property I had to pour a bottle of mineral water into the bucket to get the scalding temperature down to bearable.

And the best thing about all these royal palaces?

It’s quite straightforward …

… I do love a man in uniform, and in Rajasthan there are so many to choose from.

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