Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Holiday



We’re in Goa and it actually feels like being on holiday. We’ve been the only white faces, or at least one of only a few, and now everything is geared up for us and our western ways. I haven’t seen an indian toilet and we’ve been here 3 days. There are even 2 air conditioned supermarkets selling everything from wine to toilet rolls, shampoo, bread and ice cream. It could almost be any European holiday destination. We have sunbathed, walked the strip (where all the men keep calling me ‘taxi’, still better than bike!) and we started our stay in a lovely hotel with fluffy towels, crisp white linen sheets, air con (of course) and a swimming pool. We did only stay 2 days as this was way over budget but it was great to get a comfy bed and restful nights sleep. We have now swapped to a little guest house on the beach road which is still a/c, has hot water, fairly comfy beds and a fridge….but half the price. We have filled our fridge with water, indian wine (not yet sampled but I’ll report on that) and peanuts from one of the supermarkets. We even have a balcony that looks out on the beach road and all of the activity there. It’s not really the season yet, that doesn’t start for a couple of weeks so there’s frantic building activity. Beach shacks being hastily erected out of bamboo and palm leaves, walls being plastered and everything being painted. It’s been difficult to find internet connections and more especially wifi. I think that may be because this is more touristy and still out of  season so they are not connected yet.

Not really much else to report except I have to say that the reason we picked the rather grandly named  ‘Alexandras Tourist Centre’ to stay for our last 2 nights is because Mrs Alexandra looks like an older Indian Pam! She is so sweet but still a tough one to haggle with even charging us 10 rupees for a photo copy that she needs to send to the police!! So Ron and Pam, if you get to Candolim you have to come and say hello. She’s a bit camera shy but I will try and get her photo and post it on the gallery.

Another golden sunset at the end of another golden day
 

Sunday, 28 October 2012

Don't Panic Mr Mannering


 

Hampi back to Goa and first 3 hours in Goa

The journey from Hampi to Goa was taken on an air-conditioned sleeper coach. The 350km took 10 hours overnight. Fast huh? The coach consisted of little compartments with each one having two single beds. These run down either side of the bus on two levels. You climb in pull the curtains and arrive the next morning having had your own space, privacy and air conditioning. Like communism, in theory, this should work. In many ways it does but there are other aspects that don’t…

Indian roads, even at 35km per hour, can be challenging to any suspension. In villages it is even more so. Consequently the gentle drone of the tires on the road one might expect to lull you off to sleep in England are replaced by swaying, jolting, beeping and rapid breaking. Having said that the “beds” were comfortable.

It would have been nice if the airline style ac jets were more controllable in terms of “on” and “off”. Having said that it was nice and cold.

The compartments are strictly meant for two people to share but most compartments also played host to small cockroaches. Having said that they kept themselves to themselves and just scurried across the window or along a ledge so as long as Rachel slept on the aisle side I too could sleep.

The driver was pretty good, was not drunk and had a co-pilot for safety. 80% of users were European and generally are so it would have been good to have hired someone who could tell you what was going on and address any queries.

You didn’t have to worry about missing your stop on the coach because unlike on the train the co-pilot would walk up and down the coach shouting the name of the town. Having said that it would have been nicer if he had just woke up the appropriate compartment since our births, names and destinations were all on his list. Instead we all got woken up at 11pm, 2pm, 4pm, 6pm and 7pm from our already jolting, hotty/coldy, bug infesteddy sleep.

Best of all however was the toilet arrangements for all. There were none really and after two hours our bladders were bursting so I had to bully the driver to stop so Rachel and I could have a piss. Me at the back of the bus and Rachel squatting down half way along as a stream of other travellers realising a stop had occurred streamed out to pee in other places. No dignity for anyone and although Rachel was one of the first to start she was one of the last to finish. God knows where she stores all that moisture..

Arrived about 7.00am, got bags, back packs bodies and bits and jumped into a cab. A White 1950’s/60’s Ambassador with the moulded ceiling and virtually no suspension. Old fellah driving was calm and drove like death actually meant something. Said he had had a bypass op and only worked a couple of hours a day. He dropped us at the hotel I gave him the asking price because he hadn’t made either of us shit ourselves during the 20km journey.

We inspect the room, unpack a bit, Rachel had a shower, I lay on the bed picking my nose or whatever, when she was done I looked in the bath room and realised I could actually have a shave, a shit and shower at the same time (wet room styled bathroom). I told Rachel to get the camera…. “Oh No!”, she cried from the other room “I’ve left the camera in the cab”. This is our new camera we bought to take fabulous photos of our trip with all our images, spare batteries, case and memory cards. (Luckily we have been up loading to the computers and dropbox regularly so at least most of the images were not lost)

We get dressed run out to the street, hail a cab and get “Bappa” who drives like a loony back the 20km to Panjim to see if the white ambassador is there. It isn’t, he gets out and asks about if anyone knows the cabbie in question. He has a house about another 15km away in a little village. They don’t know the address or the mobile so we head off there. Again Bappa asks around and are told that he has a place nearby but he has not been there a couple of days and are told that he lives mainly in another house 10km away. We go there. He is not there. His sister, who is there, says he is still working and is then going to the other house. She gives Bappa the number and he calls and pretends (his idea) to want to see the old car for a wedding and can he meet him to look at it (Bappa says this because if he hasn’t had any fares and the camera is on the back seat then if we say we left the camera he could just say no and keep it). Anyway we head over to the other house again. This is all 2 hours or so after we left it. The old fellah opens the door and Bappa speaks to him, looks at the car and sees the camera is not there so tells him the real reason and bugger me he has the bloody camera. Apparently he had two fares after us and the second set of passengers gave him the camera he finished work and had had a shower and unbeknown to us had called the hotel to say he had it. We were gob smacked at how fortunate we had been. To have had two other taxi passengers, a honest old cabbie and a tenacious Bappu to hunt him down. We thank them profusely give both a reward and come home to the hotel to have a much needed breakfast and ponder the ‘Honest injuns’.

" I fuckin' love this place"




Hampi is without doubt one of the most extraordinary, beautiful and wonderful places we have ever been too. As previously mentioned the place is strewn with these huge boulders amongst the lush vegetation. This makes it feel like a Disney film set. The only downside, and I only mention this because the evidence is still very apparent, is that the main town itself has been virtually destroyed by the government who want to preserve the monuments that had been incorporated into shops, houses, etc over the years. This was a vibrant area known as the bazaar which buzzed with life and made Hampi a wonderful hippy retreat where you could relax after taking in the extensive, surrounding monuments.  Rather than accept that the monuments that had been sequested form only a very small part of the overall architectural wonder and actually made for an interesting piece of living history (there has been a bazaar for hundreds of years). They have made a huge blot on the landscape consisting of rubble, rubbish and ruination. Apparently the site was cleared About 18 months ago and has been pretty much left. This is a world heritage site so they want to preserve the integrity of everything and limit the contact with all of buildings eventually so it all looks lovely. Trouble is there is a blindness in this country to rubbish and dereliction so this could be years before the debris is moved and the goal achieved.

So that little diatribe done with lets talk about the area of Hampi. There are something in excess of 2,000 temples plus the extensive remains of royal palaces and old settlements in the area which is about 7 sq kilometres in which there are some good restaurants and little communities. Ours is just across the river and means we have to get a ferry (carrying 20 people, backpacks and a man on a motorbike where 10 lightly luggage folk would be considered ample elsewhere) to the other side every day. There is also a coracle option operating for tardy travellers who miss the last ferry but we have not availed ourselves of its wobbly service. Our accommodation is a little circular bungalow/hut that’s dark and dingy and constantly having power cuts (although we believe it is the doing of the owner who is a tight arsed manager turning off the main switch to stop people using lecky). We have an outside seating area under a straw canopy and a swinging divan on which we can lie and see the river, sunset and a profusion of animals. We regularly see fabulous butterflys and birds – paraqueets, kingfishers and herons being highly notable; chipmunks and lizards are everywhere and often there is a chipmunk in our room running around above our mosquito net; we have seen grass snakes, huge ants, a millipede that was as thick as my thumb and 8 inches long; there are monkeys everywhere in hampi and frequently they are running over the road or clambering along walls and on temples (jungle book style).

The ruins of Hampi are magnificent, far reaching and virtually empty in comparison to other similar sights we have seen on our travels. Except we have never seen anything like this. Hindu, muslim, Jain temples all in various states of decay. And you can be part of it - walk on them, touch them and sense them. Both Rachel and I feel our hackles rise and a thrill pass through us on the high ridges where the Jain temples are and in the Kings palace. A bit spooky but more likely the thrill of the immenseness and being there to witness it. We are very lucky!

Being as it’s a bit remote we tend to head to bed early and start the days earlier than normal with a chai on the divan. Today however we were up and out just before 6am on a little moped we have hired for £2.00 a day (and none of that insurance, drivers license nonsense to worry about). The roads are empty save a few wandering cows, dogs and friendly waving children so as long as we mind the potholes and cow shit we are OK. We drive to two temples. The first the Monkey temple which is 600+ steps up the side of rocky outcrop. Atop this is granite plateau from which we watch the sunrise to the accompaniment of Hindu chanting which emanates from the temple 24hrs a day. It is again beautiful and serene. Our second temple is upon another lesser hill and the bike struggles to get us up their so Rachel has to walk part way to the little community of monks and villagers. All very twee and we are well received.

Pretty much everywhere we go we are the only westerners and are asked our names, where we are from and how long are we staying in india. So many people speak English because there are many dialects in India and English offers a unifying communication language. Even Hindi families drop in and out of English in their normal every day conversations. This makes it easier than it would be although the strong “goodness gracious me” tones, rapid fire delivery, mispronunciations and confusing yes, no, maybe, torra torra (little little) head wobbles add a little confusion. Still all better than our Hindi, Gujurati etc (3000 variants).

I could go on and on about Hampi. I have gone on and on. But this is a special place (Rachel just reminded me of the bat temple which we walked through to the accompaniment of bats swirling around us in the near dark – stop stop!). So. If near Hampi I say go there and see it. But also don’t go because the more that do the less it will be – Oh the dilemma of it all.

Oh one last thing – promise. Rachel keeps coming out with little nuggets of wisdom or spiritualesque bollocks anyway. Two I recall…

“It’s all very lovely being a hippy and spiritual and finding your self but you never see a happy hippy do you?”

And of my comment that everyone (with a camera) is out there looking for the perfect shot she says “Yes but they won’t find it in the places, its in the people”… Deep!

 

Friday, 26 October 2012

Hampi and the festival


 
The train arrives at Hospet, the nearest train station and big brother town to Hampi. Our spirits sink. After the train journey We are wanting a drink, a shower, ac and a bed. We walk out of the station and see a pig and 4 piglets, a herd of cows, a pack of dogs, run down shops and dwellings and tumbleweed. The drive through the town reached new highs with our driver going along the pavement to get around a traffic jam – three roads and there was a jam! Something to do with a festival.

Anyway, 15kms later and cresting the top of a hill we see Hampi – WOW! Hampi is amazing. The terrain consists of valleys and hills all covered in huge granite stones and slabs. Some are mounds or hills and are hundreds of feet high others just hillocks. The rocks have vegetation growing between them and are set in lush paddy fields and palm groves. The rocks themselves are smooth, often with what looks like a high ore content. Many look like they have just been scattered by a giant hand and look incongruous in the landscape. We later here of how these were spewed from volcanos many millennia ago. To get to our resort, well collection of huts, a reception and restaurant. We have to cross a river on a little ferry. Indian style this usually carries 20 people where 10 would be considered full elsewhere. Our hut overlooks the river and is small, dingy, no aircon and pretty basic, But that’s what Hampi is about. So you either get with it or leave. We take a shower eat some food and fall asleep.

Morning comes and the full beauty of our view is revealed. This place is like paradise. Our plan is to chill out, stroll along the river and drink in the scenery and do the massive site of all the temples tomorrow. However we overhear that there is a festival in the town so jump into a tuk tuk and arrive as it has just started. The pictures cannot truly convey the vibrancy of the colours and the sense of the occaision. The village near the Durga temple is not large and neither is the procession – An adorned elephant, 15 religious characters, 20 drummers, a yogi and attendees, a troupe of 30 dancing girls and a procession of 50 identically dressed women and various attendees such as crowd control, water carriers and telephone wire lifters (necessary unless you wish to electrocute your elephant).
 
The drums beat strong rhythms interposed with alternative beats. The drummers are vigorous and jump around wildly, The elephant stops occasionally and hangs a lei around a devotees neck and lays its trunk on them in blessing. The crowd move along and in and around the procession mingling their vibrant coloured clothing with those in the procession. The actors representing various deities perform small shows as they go which include mock battles, abductions, courtships and hunting. The costumes are colourful and professionally made. As the processions continues the  excitement grows and the narrow streets fill with tributary smaller processions of floats that join the main throng. Fire crackers are thrown and petals are strew, incense is burning, small offerings are set alight and the smells only help to create an even more mystical feel. Our heads are giddy and we are constantly assailed by groups of children saying hello and wanting us to take their pictures. After 90 minutes we return to the start point in the town and leave the procession to wind its way up to the Durga Temple whilst we head back for lunch followed by a stroll along the banks of the river, clambering on these huge boulders and drinking in the majesty of the valley.

 

 

Thursday, 25 October 2012

It's a "Jail break train" said Alex despondently.



The train from Goa to Hampi

The train from Goa to Hospit was without down an experience in Indian rail travel. We are in a non air conditioned 3 tier sleeper carriage which means 8 bunks per compartment- three up each side and two at the end. Each carriage has 8 compartments so 64 people to a carriage and roughly 20 carriages to a train. During the day the top bunks are generally folded against the wall leaving the top bunks and bottom bunks  for sitting or laying on and the middle ones as a backrest.  When you get on the train everyone is bundling in with cases, impossibly large boxes, bags, children, food parcels etc. It is mayhem and the Indians do not queue so getting on, off or along the train is incredibly difficult. Doubly so, if you have a large rucksack to squeeze through the gaps. I have not had a ticket assigned and am on a waiting list so have to check on a printed sheet at the station before we get on to see if I have been allocated a ticket or not. If not then I will get on anyway and see what happens. Anyway it turns out that I have a seat that is 4 carriages up from Rachel. There is a german guy called Axel on the station. He is standing roughly where rachels carriage is so I ask if he is travelling alone and if he would swap seats with me from carriage 6 to 10 so I can be with Rachel on the 8 hour journey. He agrees to do so once he is on the train and has his seat (sensible not trusting me as my seat number is hand written and not printed). The train arrives and Rachel goes off to her carriage with Axel and I too mine. Except mine does not exist. I am walking up and down the platform trying to find it and people are pushing and shoving to get on and off. Eventually the train starts to move so I have to get on. I have to stand on the step of an open door as it is still chaos inside. After about 10 minutes I am able to get in the train and take my pack off and tie it to the door handle. Trusting an indian woman to watch it whilst I go off to find Rachel. It takes 10 minutes of pushing and shoving along 4 carriages of heaving humanity to get to her. Her carriage is the worst I actually have to climb up along the near the ceiling to get past some people and cases. I eventually find her and Axel, tell Axel I don’t think we will be changing and head back to my pack to collect it. People are still talking in the aisle, trying to put boxes on partially filled top bunks, get people who are sleeping on the bunks that are not theirs up and squeezing themselves into already overfilled spaces. People climb over one another, through one another and squeeze around one another. Here it is normal. No one is overly angry, upset or stressed. This is India and with 1.2 billion all struggling to survive it is the accepted way.
 
 
When I get back to the pack the woman is gone and the pack is leaning dangerously close to the open doorway. There is no way I can get it through the carriages for at least 30 minutes, when every one has settled into the new reality so I decide to wait. Luckilly the train pulls into a small station for a few moments so I disembark and make the much easier passage to Rachel outside of the train. Hoping on just as the train starts to move again. The journey is long, hot and crowded. Hawkers selling tea, mangos, biscuits, juice, cucumbers, biryani and curries, barjis and crisps constantly ply their trade calling out what they are selling as they go. We cannot chance the handled and cooked food so survive on water and packet of crisps and some biscuits. Time drags and temperatures rise, sweat sours, shit odour increases, our heads throb and noise. Axel turns out to have excellent English , is interesting, friendly and nice and both Rachel and I spend time chatting with him whilst the other perches with our bags up on the top bunk. Apprarently there was lovely scenery according to Rachel. Waterfalls, villages, hills etc. I don’t know why I missed it. Maybe I was crying. Rachel is much tougher than I. Pics on line for interest

Monday, 22 October 2012

Yum yum



Have just arrived in Goa for one night then off grid in Hampi (check it out on line). Probably off grid for a few days. We will see. The thing about Udupi was it was shit but we have high hopes for Hampi. However before we leave Udupi behind I have to tell you that our last day was perfectly finished by a crap meal that was too expensive, took too long to arrive and was served with the usual joy. We drank a couple of bottles of rum (small bottles) to ease the hunger pangs and went to bed only to wake up in the morning to find we were covered in bed bug bites - Rachel has 52 i have about 10. Complained and got 50% off the bill (woo hoo) as we were going Joseph the general manager asked that i critiqued the hotel....SOrry to say i was les than kind

Sunday, 21 October 2012

Stuff going on




Another day in Paradise…Well Paradise Hotel that is. Hopefully,  something quite different to that which we all hope awaits us  when we all eventually die. Today’s notable things:

A sweet, big brown eyed, three year old Indian girl walked past me today holding a mobile phone in one hand and dragging a two foot machete along the ground with the other. She didn’t smile and I got out of there before it all kicked off.

We have been watching large brown Eagles and white headed Kites riding the thermals above the palm groves. Later, whilst we were in the hotel pool we saw an eagle fly by with a plastic cup in its talons, a crow (there are hundreds of them) with a whole slice of bread speared on the centre of its beak fly past (looked like he was squinting around the edge to see where he was going).  And funniest another crow who had the last part of a Cornetto wrapper over his beak so it appeared it was a silver beak.

Two cows wandered along the beach today amongst the frolicking locals. The camel didn’t look that pleased.

A man overtook our tuk tuk on the back of a moped holding a large metal grate. It was about 5ft high and 4ft wide and he balanced it on the back of the bike and held it with spread arms behind his back. He looked as if he had been crucified upon it. Thinking about it he mayhave and could have been on his way to hospital. Nothing would surprise me here.

There was a huge storm last night and the electrics on one of the bungalows blew up. There was loads of lighting. Caught one forked one on camera. The jet ski people and boat hire company on this beach were still ferrying the locals out even though the storm raged and the lightning bolts were falling all around.

We got moved from our bungalow  to another one because we had rigged the supposedly broken air con unit to work and we were not paying for air con in our room package. They have moved us to another bungalow on the pretext that the one we were in was booked. There is an air con unit in the new onethat  looks defunct as well but with a little probing we have managed to get it to work as well. Will have to wait till this evening before we put it on or we will be told off.

Got talking to the general manager today who wants me to look at some land he owns in the backwaters with the idea of setting up a business with him. He is going to send us pictures and details. I told him things that were wrong with his hotel.

Checked online today and after two weeks have spent £550 of our budgeted £400 a week budget. This is for all our food, accommodation, train and bus travel and expenses. That means we are £250 in credit for when we hit more expensive places.

Rachel has got a red belly button. She don’t know why! She just has.

Also re looking on line found that two transactions that had been declined at a ATM in the bank of India showed up as withdrawals. Luckily I have the transaction slips so have notified VISA   hopefully will get my £255 back.It looks like the normal 6.30pm storm will be early this evening.  We have our hooch so we don’t care.

Off to Goa tomorrow which is another 300km up country. Upudi has been interesting but I wouldn’t bother putting it on your list of must go places.

Saturday, 20 October 2012


Funny. The things that you think you will be writing about are quite often not the things that are interesting. For example I could talk about the golden beaches, the rolling waves of the Arabian sea crashing on the shoreline that stretches for miles and yeah, it’s nice, but it ain’t  that interesting. In fact it probably alienates us a little because most of you buggers are in England and its cold already. So last night after our walk we came back Rachel wrote her blog I did the clothes washing in a bucket in the shower room and then strung bits of string up around the room – light fitting to window latch, television stand to door handle and hung it all out to drip and dry by the power of overhead fan on full and aircon on high. A bit like England on a wet and drizzly day but in our hotel room. It was so extreme we had to go out for a while. We went and had a meal in the vegetarian outside seating area. Now your Indian does everything by the book whilst employed by a hotel. If you go get a menu he will take it back and represent it. If you sit where he didn’t want you to he will try to move you. It is formulaic because otherwise it is chaos. That’s why there are usually an inordinate amount of junior managers to keep an eye on the workers. Last night there didn’t seem to be a manager so food order was taken eventually then ten minutes later it was retaken because it had been forgotten what was required. The beer came but not the lime soda. The lime soda came after a reminder but only one lime soda, the second following after another reminder. The dishes took about 40 minutes to arrive (most of them anyway) the remainder a further 5 minutes. Eventually our full mean arrived at 10.20 (about 50 minutes from when we arrived). At 10.30 the waiter came and told us that the restaurant was closing at 10.30 and sat at another table looking at us and waiting for us to finish. Unlike in Cochin and Kerala the food is not great and too hot. The highlight of the meal was a frog jumping from somewhere and landing on my shoulder where he stayed for a couple of minutes before hopping off to the cabinet by my side.
There was a disco at the hotel last night. It said so on the notice board. We thought it might be nice to have a bit of a dance. We investigated and found a large open fire made up in an open air fire pit in the middle of the food court to the side of the restaurant. There was no proper dj. More like a party where different people decide what music they want to hear irrespective of where in a song the music playing might be. There were no flashing lights, there was no dance floor, there was no alcohol and most importantly there were no women! But you know what. Never have we heard such exuberance and seen such wholehearted participation in dancing (like Rachels blog this is artistic licence since dancing would probably be defined as moving the body rhythmically in time to, or as an artistic interpretation of, the music. This was more along the lines of a physical illness). The whooping and unrestrained screams of joy, the shouting and cheering and clapping and brotherly encouragement went on and on…. till 10.30 on the dot when a whistle was blown and it was all done. Obviously the waiter looking after us held sway over the disco as well.
Got up this morning wanting to leave and a bit fed but we gave ourselves a stern talking to and decided that this was the definitely the road less travelled (not even a road really). We head off to Udupi town which is pretty big and vibrant with temples and shops and cars and madness and we are the only white people here. We have not actually seen any westerners for two days. That’s fine. Generally people are friendly and helpful some times they are not and are dismissive but I think most of the problem comes with cultural difference in communication. We are learning and that’s good. The temples were interesting and we queued with me having to remove my shirt as an act of piety. The queue was constantly replenishing and the line stretched in front of us and into the dark of a Sri Krishna temple. Eventually we reach the inner sanctum and are greeted with a profusion of smells and chants, The hindus crowded around the shrines and attempting genuflections as they are pushed on their way by crowd controlling monks. There are cows panting in alcoves and the ringing of bells. There offerings of oil being poured upon flaming receptacles. There is the anointing of heads and it is all so intense and quite wonderful and strange and overpowering.

After a meal we have headed back to our hotel and the joy of air conditioning and are now getting happily drunk on a bottle of hooch and coca cola followed by a walk on the beach and a brilliant storm which was very exciting.
 
 See more  pics of day in gallery

 

 

Friday, 19 October 2012

A road less travelled


 
 
Ok, my public have demanded that I have a go at this blog business. So here is my attempt. It will be shorter and nowhere near as humorous and probably a bit more factual.

I think Chris left it that we were having a marvellous time with the suspiciously fantastic Siyad. Well we have had another extraordinary 24 hours since then. Our new best friend squeezed us, our rucksacks and our food bag into his tiny rickshaw. With the rain lashing down and Chris with one buttock on the seat with Siyad in the front  and me hanging on desperately to the bags in the back we made it to the dock for the last ferry. We hugged, kissed and cried as we said our goodbyes and ran to the dockside, where the rain was still coming down in stair rods and the lightening was filling the sky followed by rolls of thunder. Men with crabbing lines were hoping to catch their tea  while the ferry came across the bay. We jumped on, well not really jumped but a bit of poetic licence, relieved to have made the ferry. Got off the other side in Eranakulam, still pissing down, expecting there to be rickshaws and taxis a plenty all chasing for our business but, oh no, the time you want one there’s not a single bugger there! So we run to the main street, artistic licence again because running in wet flip flops with 15kgs on your back is not something I’m any good at, and grabbed a rickshaw, no haggling just get us to the station.

The train arrives on time (10.35pm) and we squeeze ourselves into our carriage. The trains here have 5 different classes and each class has 6 carriages so a pretty impressive train. We are in a 3AC carriage so it is at least air conditioned but there are 8 bunks in each area. 3 on each side and 2 the end.  No curtains and a little man comes round with sheets, pillows, blankets and a towel for everyone. I’m on the top with a lady and her child opposite and an elderly indian man on the end. He looks as though he’d be the one sitting outside on the roof if it was that sort of train. And at 5am he’s wide awake and singing, again poetic licence, a tune for about an hour. He has spent most of the night hawking up and gobbing over the side of his bunk into the corridor so you can imagine the quality of his singing voice.

I have to pee in the night so armed with my trusty she-wee I head down the corridor, flip flops on to avoid the gob and the potential  pee in the toilet. I opt for the western one, big mistake. The door has a latch on the outside to hold it shut when not in use which I open and try to push but it won’t open. 30 seconds later a little brown hand comes round the door and an indian man comes out as though nothing out of the ordinary has occurred….how long had he been locked in there?! Quite a while I reckon by the state of the toilet.

At about 6am the ‘Chai’ man brings round flasks of hot water and tea and biscuits which signal time for the lights to go on. We get to Upudi about 7.15am and get off the train with about 10 other passengers, all indian. It’s a small station and I’m getting worried. At this point I should note that Chris wanted to  go to Munnar a beautiful hill station inland but, oh no, Rachel thinks we could stop somewhere on the road less travelled (one of Chris’s favourite phrases). As we walked out of the station it was a tumble weed moment. No rickshaws, no taxis, no sign of anything in particular. Oops!

We do track down a rickshaw, again no haggling, 70 ruppees to the town. He drops us outside a square full of temples and 3 men try to sell us recorders! The temples and town look beautiful  and I fell a little better. Chris tries a couple of hotels, which in truth don’t look particularly salubrious but needs must but they speak hardly any English and make it quite clear that they do not want the likes of us in them. How rude! My slight lift in mood is starting to drop again then I remember reading and seeing that there is a lovely beach close by. So track down a rickshaw driver, they all speak Hindi so communicating is difficult, and ask to go to beach and hotels. No haggling , getting hot, want to clean our teeth and have a shower and I am still convincing Chris this was a good idea. 9kms later we’re dropped at a beautiful white beach and there are 2 hotels. One is a shack with the darkest, dingiest room that he wants 1500 ruppees for and the other is a huge hotel that only has sea view rooms for 4000 ruppees. Chris goes into negotiating mode and it works. Cottage room with A/C and sea view for 1500 ruppees.

Go for a walk to check out the area and there’s a huge shipping yard that we get to by walking along a shitting beach. Anyone who has read ‘One Big Damn Puzzler’ will know the reference but it was covered in pooh! Even more worried at this point. The hotel is full of Inidian holiday makers. This is the Jaywick of South India. But we’re probably going to stop here for a few days, make the most of it. Go back and see the temples without rucksacks maybe take a boat trip to an island, lay around by the pool with all the Indians with their clothes on. We’ll keep you posted.

Chris has just finished doing the washing and I don’t think my attempt has been too bad. Actually it’s probably longer than he would have done and a bit funnier?!

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Divinity in a turban


You will not believe the depths of self deprecation, generosity, openess of heart and camraderie that thediminutive, sub-continental christ has sank to now!

So last blog i think he was going to give us a cooking demo. Well he lied basically. Instead he used the food i paid for (Red snapper, 1 kilo prawns, Kerrala rice and coconut milk) and added it to various other spices, and food stuffs such as popadoms, dahl and spices and created a meal along with his nephew for the whole house. It was lovely and a pleasant evening witht he smell of a curiously relaxing tobacco and spices hanging in the air.

The following morning we raised ourselves at 7.00am in order to be collected at 8.00am at 8.40am and we driven by a completely insane taxi driver through the busy morning streets to meet and equally mad busdriver that was drove through even busier steets at breakneck speed causing bikes, pedestrians and tuk tuks to scatter.

Anyway we spent the day on a house boat with a few other people tundling around the beautiful backwaters of kerala. The water is fresh and slow flowing with lush palm groves butting up to the shore line on either side. The sun was warm with a gentle breeze stirring the air enough to make the whole deal quite pleasant just letting the scenery all slip by. Lunch was, not surprisingly a curry which we washed down with alcoholic coconut tree sap. Later we were driven to another location and were punted on narrow canoes along canals through the palms past small homesteads with lizards, kingfishers and water snakes appearing around every bend.

The journey back was even more manic with a 'dual' scenario going on with a major busload of children behind us who eventually overtook us in a high street when we were overtaking a tuk tuk and oncoming traffic was forced to swerve and brake. Absolutely fucking mad! The lot of them!

Saint Siyad had been preparing a meal all day to return the favour for us buying the previous evenings food. And we were served up a lovely meal of Mahi mahi (a large fish), vegetable curry, chipattis, etc etc. Valentino (Nice young french guy with indian girlfriend Badisha - who he seems to constantly be biffing (our room is next door to theirs)) brought beers, we brought some cakes and once again we had a great evening with chatting drinking and eating. A new couple (but not actually a couple) called steve and Kate arrived and added to the conversation which queen Marta a depressive portugese leach drama queen did her best to suppress.

Today his holiness Siyad took us to the Banana Market because he thought we would like it. Miserable Marta tagged along but did not speak and just operated her mobile from which she was probably depressing people long distance. Anyway we enjoyed it and laughed and joked with the sellers, bananans packers and hauliers as they bustled around doing their thing.

I had said to the bloody celestial one that we were having trouble booking a train so straight after he ran us in his tuk tuk to a booking agent to get it sorted. Which he did. In return he allowed us to buy him breakfast and he actually had something that was the cheapest on the menu.

Just got back from a yoga class which lasted 2.5 hours and was loody brilliant and will be leaving this holy place tomorrow. God i will miss our lovely host! He has been something of an inspiration in calmness and has truly reached a state of contentment.

 

Monday, 15 October 2012

Never trust an Indian




Bloody hell i am so tired all the time. Its the heat. Whilst i hear that Essex is bathing in a balmy 6 degrees we are melting in 36 degrees. Huge storm last night another later tonight. Day time however brilliant sunshine and clear blue skies.

Train travel from Varkala to Cochin took 3.5 hours on train with a load of med students. Nice lads let us camp on their reserved seats. Trains run slowly here as the actual journey was only 100 miles.

Arrive Cochin about 2.30pm and get 420 Rupee Rickshaw to the Homestay hostel. On metre it would have been about 280 Rupees but luckily i had gone to a taxi stall and successfully negotiated the higher rate before we got on.

Homestay place is good. When we were first shown our room we thought we were in reception as the bedroom was round the corner. For a reception it was a bit cramped but clean and tidy with three piece suite and big telly in a wall unit. Consequently we were a little dismissive when pushed as to whether we liked it. It was only when he gave us the key and pointed out the sleeping area that we understood it was all part of our room which cost £12 a night inc ensuite as well. Whoops!

Siyad (mein host) is lovely. Softly spoken, nice smile, good English and honest (i don't trust him. He is too nice). After a shower we ask where a nearby restaurant could be found. He took us himself. It was great food and good price (Urrm). This morning we asked about breakfast and were taken to another equally good restaurant in his own rickshaw which was also good . He joined us, at my invitation (ha ha this is where i get stung, i thought) No. He had the cheapest on the menu....I don't trust him still. Oh my he is wilely, this one. He took us for a tour of the town for three hours in his rickshaw. Went to spice shop, beach, Dhobikhana (large manual laundering service) where 40 familiies ply their soapy trade hand washing clohes in large partially submerged concrete cubicles then hang them out to dry in a huge compound before being ironed with large heavy charcoal irons. We then visited a church, a museum and saw the canilevered chinese fishing nets in action near the port. That Indian devil charged nothing and even gave us a complimentary beer !!!! Oh yeah! Heeven  took us to one shop which he said to be careful and say no in as it would be a hard sell. He said once we had been in  he would tell us the secret of the shop. Here it comes I thought. it's ran by pirates and we will be kidnapped!...It wasn't ran by pirates. I don't think so anyway, because when we came out he gave me a hundred Rupee note and a chitty which he received for him taking us there. AAARRRRGGGHHHH!  You Bastard! Undermining my natuaral suspicion of the human race like this!! Oh and the final straw.  Just now he has suggested we buy some fish and he will give us a free cooking lesson tonight and has booked a kerala back water tour for tomorrow at a fraction of the cost we were expecting to pay. How can you trust someone like that huh? How can you!!!!!!???

Siyad at Tantraa Homestay Bishop Gardens Lane No 2, Cochin. Be warned travellers!!! pics on gallery

Saturday, 13 October 2012

Weird just got weirder


Hadn't really intended to do this every day but this has been a funny sort of day and its only 2.30pm
So, in order of appearance. Some facts, something funny, something we felt, something we saw then something just bizarre

The fact bit - about costs
 
Our breakfast of two pieces of toast, masala tea, orange juice, bottled water and a Spanish omelet costs about 280 rupees, two cans of coke is 50 rupees, 1 litre of bottled water 25 rupees, a 30km Train journey is 69 Rupees each, a dinner inc two 600ml of kingfisher, a large naan, rice, vegetable curry and some other vegetarian dish is about 550 Rupees, our hotel room is 1200 Rupees a night and is clean, comfortable, reasonably sized and has an en suite bathroom and shower. £1=83 Rupee. these are the average prices around here but there are much cheaper deals on eating out and accomodation if one can be bothered to look

The funny thing
 
This morning after having breakfast whilst looking at the Arabian Sea (not Indian ocean as origianally stated) I did a discrete blow off. Unfortunately it sounded like a trumpet and felt more substantial than your average fart. Upon a quick investigation in the toilet I discovered why wearing pants and shorts can help ones modesty. I had effectively shit myself and the whole arse crack area of my dark blue shorts were now much darker and clearly sign posted my predicament. To make matters worse I had to scurry, running to dangerous, back to the hotel down the main thorough fare to shower my arse and wash my shorts. Rachel was very supportive.

The feely bit
 
It is very pleasant sitting in an empty restaurant upstairs overlooking the sea amidst palm trees as rain pours down upon the tin roof. The loud pitted patter mixes with the sound of crashing waves and gentle Indian music. The water pours in small waterfalls off the rusting, red, corrugated channels and splashes on the worn wooden floor. Occasional peals of thunder can be heard above these restful sounds but this adds to the joy of having nothing to do apart from sip our lime sodas and watch the world go by from our comfy dry seats.
 
The thing we saw
 
Dolphins. Whilst sitting in the restaurant a pod of dolphins swam along the bay with there bodies gliding in and out of the water. No acrobatics but pretty exciting nonetheless.
 
Now the bizarre bit

The restaurant we had breakfast and one of us shit ourself in said they were doing a cooking exhibition at 10.00am so asked Rachel if we would come back after i had cleaned myself up. At 12 noon we were still sat there waiting - enjoying rain, reading kindles, going on the net but, still just waiting. Suddenly there are loads of people and waiters carrying power lines and the double ovens from downstairs, and lighting rigs, and cameras, and silver boxes and microphones. There are cameramen, soundmen, make up people, an achor woman, producer, assistants, an over excited owner and a terrified looking chef.
 
The exhibition is not just an exhibition for me and rachel  but a full blown production of a 15 minute cookery programme for national southern india tv.
 
We are the audience, along with a couple of other girls who arrived about 11.30. But not an audience that is secondary to the plot. We are part of the bloody plot and rachel and i are postioned at our table chatting and drinking beer that is disguised as a fruit cocktail by a double agent napkin about 2ft from the chef and the young starlet. The camera people, producer et al all chat to us and dab our faces to clear the sweat (we only came in for breakfast so those of us who had not shat themselves were ill prepared for their 15 minutes of fame being still a bit stinky and greasy haired from the night before)
 
The shot went on for a while then suddenly attention turned to the "foreigners" who were in the restaurant and we had to taste the food and say "yummy" and what we thought. I had to feed rachel and the greedy bugger got four servings before she got it right!
 
I didn't think we were naturals but.... The producer then got all the cameras on us and asked us to do a link to be shown between other programmes to promote the show.
 
Rachel: Watch Superchef!
Pan to Chris
Chris: Monday to Friday
Pan to Rachel
Rachel: 12pm
Pan to Chris who points from the hip in a cheesy fashion
Chris: Only on Asian net plus
Pan to both with thumbs up
Chris and Rachel: So don't miss it
 
We have been given the web address of the station so we can check it out and when we have a proper link you can see your now famous indian megastars.
 
Have to go as Rachel needs to shit, shower and shave before we are due back on set for part two of the set and more "yummy" comments 
 
 

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Gone Fishing


 
Gone Fishing - Louis Armstrong?

Rachel and I got up at 6.30am today and went down to the beach to watch the fishermen pull in their catch for the day. Amazing to watch and privilege to be allowed to join in.  The net is taken out to sea by boat about 300 metres. At either end of the net is rope that is fed back to shore where two teams of men  - approx. 13 either side haul the net in over the period of about 1 hour. I joined one of these teams which consisted of men of all different ages the most marked being a 65 year old man with two brown buck teeth a blind eye and set of pecs and ab muscles that would put most 20 year olds to shame.  As the net gets closer to the beach the men move closer together causing the net to form  a steep sided U shape. All is performed whilst chanting and shouting recriminations at one another about lack of effort being put in. Once the ropes have been hauled in so that the ends of the net are at the break water point a person is assigned to either end to splash and make a noise to discourage fish from  escaping around the ends. As the net gets closer more and more men are assigned to splashing on the beach side of the net to scare the fish towards the net. The last few minutes of the procedure is fairly frenetic to ensure the catch does not escape and is pulled up onto the sand. Here swearing and recriminations continue depending on the size of the catch. In today,s there were five sharks (about 800mm long) and thousands of 100mm silver fish that will be sold to along the length of Varkala. All this hard work (taking pictures can take take it out of a girl) we go back to bed till 11.00 – it’s a tough life but someone’s got to do it! In fairness the heat makes us both so tired so today is going to be a bit more of lying on a beach, eating and drinking. Pic below see more on gallery
 
 
 


Hotel is good. Not grass roofed but tiled and no a/c but that’s what we ordered to acclimatise. Two days and we say bugger it and upgrade. Anyway Kerala sits atop the red cliffs that overlook the beaches which loop along the coast in little rocky edged bays. The sea is warm but wild with big rollers and rip tides keeping bathers in the shallows. Highlights of last two days are us getting restaurant to get Pomfret (a tasty flatfish)in if there was any at the market.  They did and the waiter proudly chased up the road to show us the next night. We walk along the cliffs and stop for occaisional beer and come across fishermen and their families living in little more than shacks but all appear to be content. The Indians all try to make there bit of money and its all very good natured this haggling malarkey. They are so far very likable people. Today on the beach I witnessed a group of lads/blokes 16 to 23 playing, romping, fighting, laughing, singing, dancing and cavorting with such love and comraderie, such joie de vive, such a abandonment and happiness I was taken aback. They came and chatted and made a real impression on Rachel and I that they have made me think of India as a very special place. Also today, in a beach bar looking over same said beach I had Banana Lasse – Man I died and went to heaven. On a hot day overlooking the indian ocean I cannot imagine drinking anything more lovely – It’s a slightly tangy, thick shake with bananas and is served ice cold and frothy. We are still eating veggie and its all good and tasty and spicy. Pics starting to load now for those who can be bothered.

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

How to reply to our blogs



Ok so we have figured out, alright joe Connor figured out, how to get your replies on the blog. We did stuff on the settings so now you lot comment by clicking add comment and select anonymous from drop down menu which is last option. You can have a free google account or open ID which makes it easier and is accessed via the same menu drop down. If you do use anonymous put your name in body of comment so we can see who you are and get you on our return!

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Il est Arrive!




We are on our way. Now for all those sceptics who raised their cynical eyebrows when I said we were travelling by Air India be advised…It was good. Check in was simple, fast and efficient even though most of those around us were checking in the maximum weight allowance 46kg of luggage which consisted huge cases that have long vanished from British air travel.  Then through customs and security which again was fast and relatively easy even the bit where we had removed belts and shoes and lap tops from cases and kindles from covers and ipads from sleeves and taken off our coats and emptied our pockets in order to reassemble everything whilst stumbling out on to the main concourse. 

After a quick look in Dixons to buy yet another set of earphones (I will leave them in strange places) we have a Garfunkels breakfast which came quickly but cost too much and seemed too small for the price we paid. This was washed down with even  more expensive supplies bought to sustain us on the flight. As mentioned earlier I had feared for the overhead lockers but they were capacious and boarding was not the usual bun fight one has to normally endure. Out plane, a 777 apparently, was large airy, with good leg room, wide seats and because it was only half full we were able to purloin a set of three for ourselves. Had we been quicker I am sure our land grab could have been more. Pre dinner drinks consisted of two mini bar bottles of gin each with lashings of tonic. Dinner was a starter of chickpeas in dressing followed by a very pleasant lamb and vegetable concoction termed “bland meal” on the menu and a semolina desert. Tea and movies galore follow and a bit of a kip to help us make it through the 9 hour flight to Mumbai. I do not think this feeling of well being will last as we have to get baggage, clear customs and re check in within 1.40hrs. Those in the know say it cannot be done. We will see….

Little note whilst I think of it. Thanks  to Rachel’s parents for dinner and bed and transport to the station. Dave’s comment about us getting our monies worth out of the sewage charges this morning gives an indication of how our collective stomachs were faring with the impending departure.  Second note to Angela for making us cry with her soppy words on the phone.

…It can be done! Plane arrived early but since the airport was pretty deserted, apart from copious amounts of sleeping baggage handlers asleep (barefooted) on the external conveyor belts, we fairly sailed through and only had to put our baggage through 5 different x ray machines. 

Rachel has serious collywobbles but I suspect this is due to the stress of the last week, fatigue with the days travels and possibly the fact she is scared shitless.

That’s it for now as plane due to take us to Trivandrum in a few minutes followed by a bus, train and finally rickshaw to get us to the first hotel in Clafouti where hopefully a little reed topped bungalow overlooking the sea awaits us for the princely sum of £10 per night.

Whoa! Trivandrum is hot, fetid and full of tuk tuks and taxi’s. We get a cab to take us to the railway station and are immediately  initiated in the rules (or lack of rules) of the road in India. It seems much the same rule as anywhere  in the East. There are few! To demonstrate this a  driving instructor teaches his novice to cut across lanes of traffic and drive on the wrong side of the road to access a side road right in front of us. We arrive at the station with 5 hours to spare before our train. However we are effectively trapped as the baggage is about 50lbs for me and 40lbs for Rachel. Couple this with the heat, lack of energy and no local knowledge and you get why.

We doze in a paid for waiting room – 10 rupees each for air con, toilets and comfy sofa. Strange thing loads of men come in an use the shower in the loo and then proceed to get undressed or dressed in the waiting room which makes for a better understanding of your Indian male anatomy. Luckily there is an earlier train at 11.15 which is the New Delhi Super Express. It isn’t! In fact it would be better termed the cattle truck. The windows are barred and have no windows, the doors are open, the dust and grime is plentiful and street hawkers ply their trade up and down the carriages. Having said that there is a sort of olde worlde char…shit about it and we feel that we are very much in India. I will reserve first impressions until I have slept but think once I get my head around the rubbish everywhere I will actually like the place. Rachel is desperate for me to so let’s hope she’s a good judge of a sub continent.

Train arrives in Varkala and we travel in a 50’s cab with overley elaborate material fraying on the seats and the most sensational roof of moulded shapes with architrave around the edges and ceiling rose in the middle.

Arrive at our hotel which we are about to investigate. Big first blog as doubt ops will be avaialbe over next few days.

Chris and Rachel x

Sunday, 7 October 2012

D DAY



OK today is the day. All the technology issues are resolved. The website is working, the bags only weigh about 400 kilos each. The flights are on time, the volvo has gone (£193 kerching), the cottage keys handed back, the bank accounts sorted and apart from both of us looking and acting like scared rabbits we are ready. Personally i am starting to feel the excitement although Rachel still has to say bye to her parents when they drop us off at the station in about two hours times. Been a strange week. Horrible saying goodbye to Holly, Sam and Rob (Love you guys), lovely and horrible saying goodbye to our friends say lovely things, feed us then well up when we leave. OOH it is my turn for the shower. got to go

Where's the excitement

 
Its 8.00pm the night befor the morning after and we are almost set. Two more things to sort out on the net and then we can fall into a drunken stupor and hope that the excitement will fill the gap presently filled with anxiety, no, terror. We'll see