Havelis (heritage buildings) had been widely recommended and friends who lived in Delhi had given particular mention to the Nana Ki Haveli, Jaipur.
An inquisitive Labrador was first to greet me with a young girl in hot pursuit. Her grandmother would soon be out, I was told, to properly welcome me.
I found a sunny spot in the garden and got stuck into reading Aravind Adiga’s excellent The White Tiger.
Half an hour must have passed before I was joined by the matriarch, Mrs Singh who came out wrapped in a blanket despite it being a scorching day. She apologised for not shaking my hand but, she said, didn’t want to pass on her cold.
Out came the lengthy tourist information form. She insisted on writing the details on my behalf, which led to a very long process whereby she would attempt to read the question (she couldn’t find her glasses), listen intently to my reply, ask further extra-curricular questions (‘I’m just curious …’) and then write down the information I’d given her painstakingly slowly.
Mid-writing, I would switch back to my Kindle to continue reading.
‘So, no husband, no children? Why is that?’
‘Is that a question on the form?’
‘I’m just curious.’
An hour later and it felt like I was being vetted for my suitability to stay. I did a bit of cursory googling to see if there were anywhere else I could go to, in case I didn’t pass the test. I came across details of a nearby restaurant.’
‘I’m meeting friends tonight Mrs Singh, do you know of this restaurant? I might arrange to meet them there.’
‘Meals are included in the room rate. You will eat here. What is that – a computer?’
‘Of sorts, yes. It’s an e-Reader but also has built-in 3G so I can access free internet anywhere I am.’
‘My modem is switched off,’ said Mrs Singh, ‘so whose internet are you hacking?’
‘Well, I’m not actually hacking anyone’s internet.’
‘Is it my neighbour’s? That’s not right.’
‘Please don’t worry, it’s all perfectly legal. Are we almost done with the form?’
Mrs Singh eyed me suspiciously.
‘Here is your key. Dinner is at 7.30.’
Given what I was paying, the room was a huge disappointment. On the ground level, it was extremely dark with only one small window positioned high on the wall – so no view. The toilet flush was decidedly dodgy and, considering how hot it was outside, it was worryingly cold inside. Nightfall would only compound this so I made a note to enquire about a fire.
After spending the afternoon in the walled city and browsing the Johari Bazar, I returned to the hotel and tried sorting out the refrigerated room situation. Annoyingly, there was nothing they could do to help as there was no available source of heating. Instead they offered to provide me with more bedding to keep me warm. By now 6.30, it was already freeeeezing, so I was glad to have had the foresight of asking.
A blanket arrived and the bed re-made. The blanket looked very familiar.
I went down for dinner and found myself dining alone as I was apparently the only resident; Mrs Singh insisted on keeping me company. There was no disguising her cold which rendered her unable to really say very much, so she simply sat opposite me in silence. Well not total silence as she coughed, spluttered, sneezed and wheezed throughout all three courses.
Although the food was pretty good, it was a truly excruciating experience.
As she sat there shivering, I felt guilty that the blanket she’d been wearing earlier was now adorning my bed. But then I did the maths and figured this also meant there would be no escaping her germs.
Dinner finally over, I went out for a few hours to meet up with my friends, returning after the hotel had shut up shop for the night.
It was immediately clear that the bed had again been re-made and the offending blanket retrieved, without a replacement.
I got no sleep that night due firstly to the extreme cold and secondly because the toilet flush came to the end of its natural life, heralded by unabated, ungodly sounds and, eventually, a flood.
I moved the next day.