A Travellerspoint blog

India

1ND14 BY NUMB3R5

An Indian Conclusion from Kolkatta

sunny 26 °C

Disembarking from our mammoth journey across internal India we arrived in Kolkatta and were struck by the fact that this was not only our last longhaul trip on the Indian railways but also our last destination before we depart Indian shores for South East Asia. Kolkatta has hit the headlines in its history for all the wrong reasons, the poverty, the illness, the famines and the good reasons via the help of Mother Theresa (some may disagree that it was all good help - including Annie). However, we were both pleasantly surprised by what we found in the Old Capital of British India and thoroughly enjoyed exploring the new city.

New development stands next to the crumbling remnants of colonial residencies, left to wither due to poor rent control policies. The infrastructure is impressive by Indian standards and Andy was highly impressed by the sheer number of public transport choices, tram to underground, rickshaw to taxi. Now we had become used to seeing, sympathising and occasionally using cycle rickshaws, more out of a desire to help the poor bugger who waits for hours at a time to get a fare and then has to cycle around the chubby Westerners and equally chubby rich Indians from their hotels to shops and restaurants and back again. It is back breaking work. However, we were not expecting to see the hand pulled rickshaws still operating in modern Kolkatta that we had seen in the books and pictures of 19th century Kolkatta, it conjures up that famous Banksy painting with the fat Americans being pulled by a 5 year old Indian boy! Now that gives a whole new meaning to back breaking work! Despite Andy’s pleas to have a quick go, I did not want to actually damage the blokes back after all our curry feasts after the last three months! Actually I (Andy) wanted to have a go by myself to give the poor guys more business, but Annie looked unimpressed.

Kolkatta sites are spread across the city and we sampled a few including the Victoria monument. Needless to say, we had a look to see if the Victoria statue genital display was international (Liverpool and Manchester chaps will understand…). It is international. To experience this yourself, find any statue of Queen Victoria (you can generally find one in every British town or city). Walk around the said statue 360 degrees leaving approximately 5 meters between yourself and the statue. Keep your eyes fixed on the crotch of the monument as you walk in a circle around it. When you reach the angle where the staff she is always holding is pointed down from the crotch area… wallah! You have Queen Victoria with what appears to be a willy. It is massively immature, but equally as hilarious each time!

However, the strange highlight of our trip was when we wandered towards the ‘Mother House’. When in Kolkatta you feel as though you should have a trip to see what is left of Mother Theresa’s legacy. Now we were not expecting when approaching her house for it to be a convent (I know, it seems obvious now). Andy was also not expecting when we walked through the open door to be faced with who he thought was Mother Theresa herself back from the dead. He quickly remembered that all nuns wear the same outfit and therefore it was only another nun! We were quietly asked in shushed tones whether it was our first visit, to which we replied yes, and were quietly shepherded from the busy Kolkatta street, through the convent until we were in a room with Mother Theresa’s tomb and people worshipping her. In a matter of seconds our surroundings had unexpectedly and massively altered and we were at a bit of a loss. We followed the crowds, sat quietly on wooden benches until it seemed we had looked serious enough to leave. However, before departing we had a quick stop over in Mother Theresa’s bedroom which had been preserved from when she left it and then we were back amongst the beeping horns and crowds in the street wondering exactly what had happened in the last half an hour! All in all a very strange way to spend an afternoon!

A visit to the Kolkata museum in the Victoria Monument building summed up Kolkata for us very well. “Kolkata perhaps gained the most of any city in India from the British residence in it, but with partition it paid for its privileges with as many scars”. It was actually in 1919 when the British left Kolkata, due to pressure from the Indians and a tired British force when King George V announced a new capital city in New Delhi. Kolkata gained infrastructure, architectural gems and an intellectual community who went through many of the educational institutions established in the city. But it also suffered with the withdrawal of the British as the buildings and infrastructure were left to dilapidate under pressure of thousands of refugees and migrants fleeing the bloody partition and famine in Bangladesh. The city has come through this with a positive atmosphere and is all together a pleasant and friendly place to visit despite its hardships. I was thrilled to witness a little girl who nemasteyed us in the street with both hands, and it is this image that stays with us from Kolkata.

Our final destination got us a’thinking about what we had seen and experienced and we spent some time reflecting on our time. As such our final Indian blog could have ended up being reflexive and dull. So we decided to take a different approach which is almost entirely accurate…. Andy and Annie Present…. 1ND14 BY NUMB3R5

Important Indicators
Time Spent in India: 91 days
Distance Travelled By Land: 10,006 km

Sleeping Statistics
Aeroplanes Slept On: 1
Deserts Slept In: 1
Trains Slept On: 6
Night Busses Slept On: 7
Beds Slept in: 32

Measurement of Things Mislaid
1 x 2 of Clubs Playing Card
1 x Jaipur Section of Lonely Planet Guide Book
1 x Pair of Diesel Sunglasses
1 x Multifunctional Piece of Leather Cord
1 x Victorinox Card Style Penknife
2 x Shoelaces

Animal Accounts
Big Cats (Wild): 2
Rats: 4
Snakes: 5
Elephants: 23
Camels: 17,321
Cows: 3 million +

Vehicle Values
Auto Rickshaws travelled on: 78
Boats travelled on: 14
Cycle Rickshaws travelled on: 9
Scooters travelled on: 6
Number of Breakdowns: 1 (Flat tyre)

Miscellaneous Measurements
Bad Hair Cuts: 1
Attacks of Delhi Belly: 6
Minor Allergy Attacks: 1
Curries Eaten: 276
Mosquito Bites: 421
Photographs Taken By Us: 6200
Photographs Taken Of Us by Random Indians: 3,250,004,221
Incidents of Police Brutality Witnessed: 7
Number of Helpful Policemen Witnessed: 12

Conclusions on India

Andy’s Conclusion: I have to say that our time in India was amazing. I was a little apprehensive prior to our journey starting due to the differences in culture and seeing the poverty. The poverty was horrific as expected, but Annie and myself felt at home in a number of places and we would certainly be back to do it again – possible to other places, and some of the same. My favourite places were Manali, Kochi, Goa and Jaisalmer, and my least favourite places were Hyderabad and Bangalore. I also believe that there is something for everybody in India, be it a honeymoon, family holiday, luxury retreat and of course a backpacker extravaganza. All in all, a unique blend of everything you can imagine.

Annie’s Wittering: What can’t be put down in numbers is the images that will be left with us from our time in India. Whenever I think of India I think it will be what remained my favourite time of day for the whole time we were there, the Indian sunset where the sun starts to sink in the sky and you clearly see what it is, a burning ball of fire lighting up the whole landscape as if you are literally looking through rose tinted glasses. The heat begins to retreat and the cows on the road begin to make their way home for their dinner as the road becomes congested with otherwise feral cattle who by day roam the streets. For a precious few minutes all the noise of the day seems to quieten as incense fills the air as sunset puja prayers are performed in temples and houses all around you and fresh marigolds replace those hung outside the houses which have withered before in the heat of the day. As soon as the sun sets the moment is gone and the hustle and bustle, horns and sirens, shouts and traffic all returns to the putrid smell as people burn the rubbish of the day on the road side… this is India after all! But it is that contrast that makes those few minutes each day so peaceful and fantastic. We will miss the spectacle that is India but we are happy that as one country comes to an end for us, we are now free to explore further afield.

Peace and Love Andy and Annie xx

Posted by Annie Thornton 05:58 Archived in India Tagged india rickshaw calcutta kolkatta Comments (0)

Southern Cities and Happy Hampi

The journey through the inland center of India

sunny 26 °C

Hydera(very)bad and Secunderabad; the Twins

I'm writing this blog on the train from Hyderabad to Kolkata since there is nothing else to do other than drink cheap dark rum and sprite, or watch another chick flick on my laptop (acquired from a traveller – honestly). The reason for our trip to another city you ask was out of hope, intrigue and a desire to learn about the cities in which my Grandfather John Lancashire spent 10 years here from 1920-1930. My Grandpa unfortunately died in 1961 from the onset of malaria which I presume was picked up from India whilst serving King and Country keeping the Indians under the control of the British for entirely exploitative reasons. Now I am not one to get on my high horse for anything which seems perfectly reasonable to the political masses (crescendo of laughing ensues) however, I will actually agree that the British were success in India, and my Grandpas efforts were not in vain. The slowly moving, intelligent elephant and massive beast that is India, is loving, inspiring, forward thinking and diverse. I love India, and I admit that most of this is not down to the British, in fact we only gave them a kick. The Indians are peaceful, morally loving, righteous and have more drive and energy than the average Brit, not to mention more intellectual. However, there are issues with gender inequality... pervs a plenty!

Moving onto the delights of Greater Hyderabad and I'm told that it is the fifth biggest city in India that is also called Cyberabad on account of its technological and computer wizz kids in the city. I cant help think that the city probably looks better in cyber world if I'm honest. The city wreaks of excrement and urine, but there are a few little gems tucked away. The Charminar is quite an imposing mosque which is set 50m high on four columns and is a certain highlight of the city. Golcanda Fort is another fort on the outskirts of Hyderabad.

Secunderbad is where the old British Army Cantonment used to be located. Annie and myself went to the original site called the Tremhulgherry Cantonment (now Indianised and called Trimulgiri), as expected, it is now inhabited by the Indian Army and appears to be a mega army base with lots of facilities from officers training, houses, shopping complexes, HQ, sports, recreation and lots more. We of course were not allowed to enter the base but Annie took a few happy snaps from outside, including one of a very British building which is the old Officers Mess. This now appears to house a museum of engineering for army personnel only. Apparently the old British Fort was pulled down years ago which is a shame. It seems that the legacy of the British is actually something that has been erased without much love lost. Unfortunately there was not a museum in the city which advertised military history, or anything about the British here, but there is an area called 'Little England' on account of the amount of Anglo-Indians in the city – possibly the reminisce left over from prior to independence in 1947.

Secunderabad also has quite a few street names which are clearly English, such as James Street which is the main high street and source of fanciful culture (any inspiration for calling my Dad James?), Wellington road, and a club called 10 Downing St. I only wish I knew more about Grandad John, but as I collate my thoughts, he must have been a brave soldier to travel half way across the world (as all soldiers are) and to hold out for 10 years against a very determined country to free themselves.

Bangle Bore (Banglore)

Don't go to Banglore unless want to get ripped off by Rickshaw drivers and/or you want to do some clothes shopping and then get drunk in the city's many bars and clubs. Banglore is just another city that fails to excite so we got out as soon as we could book a bus to Hampi.

Hampi Fantastic

Hampi is a world heritage site on account of its many monolithic temples, structures and archaeology sites. On top of the historical activity there is lot of cheap hotels (about £5 per night!!) overlooking the river which are so relaxing and chilled out places. We spent a number of nights just eating food and playing cards which is very important for the soul – ie. Doing nothing, vegging around!

My gorgeous and delightful better half Annie Louise Thornton turned a quarter of a century whilst in Hampi, which was a cause for serious celebration – temple walking and cavorting!! The highlights of the birthday day can easily be summarised;

1) The fact that the main temple in the complex has its own sacred elephant who will bless you if you cross it's trunk with silver. What that means in practise is you put a ruppee coin in its trunk (which it sucks up and then fires at the mahout sitting in the corner who pockets it... safekeeping for the nellies retirement fund when it is planning to get a nice bungalow in Eastbourne). The elephant then strokes you on the head with its trunk for good luck. It can also peel bananas with its trunk in a matter of seconds.
2) The impromptu party on a rock by the river. Sitting down in a quiet spot for a can of coke and an orange we were quickly mobbed by a group of kids who were swimming in the lake. Led by us in a rendition of heads, shoulders, knees and toes they then treated us to a series of songs and dances in Hindi... all enjoyed the Bollywood dancing talents of Lancashire and they returned the favour by proudly demonstrating how they could count in English up to 37. When they found out it was Annie's birthday they promptly took all our possessions away from us and then took it in turns to give them back to Annie saying 'Happy Birthday!'. One little girl immediately took off her Bindi from her head and put it on Annie as a birthday present. They were a little upset we didn't bring any sweets to the party so next time some better preparation on our part!
3) Chilling out around the temples and getting up close with all the sculptures, almost unbothered by any other tourists, or any other people.

All in all a birthday to remember!

On another note, have you ever felt like a complete knob for doing something which was a little bit dangerous but you do it to look cool or adventurous but then it backfires? Well, we went swimming in the lake and noticed a current, so didn't swim far from the sides, then saw someone attempt to swim across to the other side (error – big error) and yes he got sucked under the bridge whilst screaming HELP with about 30-40 Indians just stood still watching (not that Indians need an excuse to gather and watch)! He did manage to cling on to a rock and then had to endure about 20 minutes with people pointing an laughing whilst a boat came to get him – gutted!! This was possibly made worse for him when he did get out as he had not gone swimming in trunks or in shorts, but in tight red underpants. From his landing point to his clothes storing area he had to cross back over the main road and through the crowd of congregating Indians. He got a round of applause from the English at this point.

Hanumans party
Hanuman is Monkey God and is recognised as a very important a Hindu diety. Legend has it that he used to be really small, until he was powered by the gifts of strength, wisdom, and courage from Vishnu and Parvati. Hanuman then grew so tall that he created the mountains and put the sun in to the sky. Hanuman is worshipped by Hindus for this great feat, and also honour him with a party for the end of the crop season. Whilst Annie did not come with me to the party, I attended with some friends from the hotel to witness the locals burning wood in a huge fire whilst dancing around it. Not a bad way to honour Hanuman I would say.

Posted by Annie Thornton 01:28 Archived in India Comments (0)

Backwater wandering...

Alleppey, Kerala

semi-overcast 26 °C

Expecting a mammoth journey we set off from Kochi to Alleppey. Two hours later, surprised and amused, we arrived in the town which has one major claim to fame... the starting point of the Keralan backwaters; a maze of canals and lakes that stretch back from the coast for a mammoth area connecting villages throughout the state, inaccessible by means other than boat.

Now we have been a bit savvy when it comes to arriving in bus stations. Everyone who approaches you is a guesthouse owner/tout ready to say anything they think you want to hear in order to get you to their accommodation. When we arrived in Alleppey we were expecting the harassment of “Hotel? Hotel? Guesthouse? Rickshaw?”... what we were not prepared for was a friendly bloke politely approaching us and asking us if we would possibly like to visit his home which is a guesthouse and whether we might want to stay there? He assured us that the rickshaw there would be free and he would bring us back to the bus station if we changed our mind. We went with it which is against the grain and ended up in an absolutely lovely homestay near the lake which was absolutely amazingly clean, really cheap, ridiculously comfortable four poster beds, real pillows... with free wifi and a hilarious little pug dog called Jacko. The place was like an oasis after some of the rat pits we have ended up in. The owner and his wife were lovely, and Polish. This all goes to prove one thing which I have been told before and continue to prove true, I can locate the Polish community of literally anywhere we visit without even trying!

As soon as you arrive near the canals you cannot avoid seeing luxurious house boats floating down the river. When I saw luxurious I mean double glazing, LCD TVs, on-board cook and outside veranda. People we have met have told us that you can spend 24 hours cruising the backwaters to see the villages and wildlife from the water. Now as lovely as this sounds... it was a little out of our price range... so instead we opted for a canoe. Perhaps the canoe was not quite as luxurious... no TV, bit less leg room... no sides so no double glazing... but it was more our scene.

The canoe floated down tiny canals flanked by palm trees and the occasional isolated village. Snakes swam in the water around us and Kingfishers perched on trees and lines over the water. Women were washing clothes and pots in the canal water every ten meters and every so often a local lad would pop up from under the water next to the boat to shout boo and giggle at your surprise. We stopped off a couple of times at villages where we accidentally crashed both a funeral (we kept our distance although I think we may have been invited in) and a christening (to which we were warmly welcomed to meet all the guests). We then stopped for dinner at the home of a relative of our boatman. We were served delicious food, fish, spicy potato, rice and papaya... all served up on a palm tree leaf rather than a plate.... saved on the washing up perhaps but pretty entertaining. Ignoring the rain storm which soaked us through it was the most relaxing experience. In fact Andy was so relaxed with the sway of the tiny boat he fell asleep on the return journey...

The experience on the backwaters has given me and Andy a new business plan to put in place if we ever return home, Leeds Liverpool Canal backwater canoe trips for American and Japanese Tourists. Imagine, a canoe down the canal driven by a local resident who knows the water like the back of his hand (Steve Thornton, if the post office doesn't take off...), getting up close to the wildlife (the amazing Armley water rat which has reached a size incomparable to the rest of the UK) and taking in local fishermen and local sites. A stop over at Armley Mills is the historical element before stopping off for a traditional meal with a local family (Aunty Andrea? You fancy boat loads of international tourists paying over the odds?) before being dropped off at the Granary Wharf for a traditional ale in easy transfer distance from the train station. For the adventurous groups we would take a two day tour with night stop over in a traditional Yorkshire/Lancashire home further afield into the lands of Barnoldswick, otherwise inaccessible but by canal. A night in the Green Street with James Lancashire as local tour guide will bring the tourists into contact with a community who has never seen outsiders before (I'm not sure about this quote Annie!- Andy). The highlight of this section of the trip would be the trip to Fouldridge where Annice Brown will meet the group to show them the location of the internationally renowned cow that swam the mile tunnel and survived to be worshipped by the local community (this will have particular resonance with the Indian tourists). The rest of our family and friends should not fear, we have jobs for all... we need touts to jump on moving buses as they pull into Leeds National Express Station to spot tourists and provide them with flyers of our service etc... commission is offered. So at least we have a plan b if Australia doesn't work for us...

Back on dry land and with another amazing sleep behind us we decided to head to the Alleppey Beach, 2km from town. Wandering down the beach was a simple but relaxing day which swiftly became entertainment for the locals. When on the sands we slipped very easily into gender stereotypes. I relaxed on the sand soaking up a few rays. Andrew took up tools and began to construct a sand replica of Jaisalmer Fort just in reach of the waves. Searching back to Geography GCSE he decided to construct comprehensive sea defences for his prize building. Andy's seemingly simple activity swiftly became beach entertainment and proved to us two points;

a) We can attract a crowd of Indian men by doing actually anything. 'White man building sandcastles' initially attracted a crowd of two men. At its peak there were 15 spectators.

b) Indian men will do absolutely anything to have their picture taken with us. This includes becoming a labour force for Andrew's constructive vision. I am sure that a meagre photograph is below minimum wage levels even in India.

Returning back for a swift shower we departed our little sanctuary of a homestay for the lights of Bangalore...

Posted by Annie Thornton 22:16 Archived in India Tagged elephants kerala alleppey bawaters Comments (0)

Seas, Teas and Fishingnets

Kochi to Munnar and Back again

semi-overcast 26 °C

You can't watch television for more than 12 minutes in India without an advertisement for tourism in Kerala popping up. Lush palm forests, elephants, luxurious boats passing through grids of canals and lakes and diving kingfishers (actual ones this time and not the beer) are all pulled out by the marketing gurus to encourage tourism. Needless to say, it worked and we headed South from Goa totally drawn in by what the Indians call 'God's own country, Kerala'. Now, we have slanged Indian media a little since we have been here... particularly the advert that suggests you become a giant by using Anbuja Cement and the body building shops everywhere that claim that their treadmill can make a body builder of a skinny Indian youth in ten days. However, over the last week in Kerala I can admit that the Indian PR men have got this one spot on! Kerala is beautiful.

We headed out on a night train to Kochi. The city is based on a number of islands and peninsulas linked by bridges and ferry boats. We jumped the ferry to Fort Kochi, the historical peninsula where goats are plentiful and people wander freely down the winding roads with only the occasional rickshaw and truck full of spices to block their path. It didn't really feel much like a major city as we wandered through the eclectic mix of buildings and cultural centres that has developed through the cities time as a major port. It was a nice change for us when, in one day in an Indian city, we visited a Dutch Palace and a Jewish Synagogue as well as hanging out by the Chinese fishing nets.

As Kerala is mainly Christian most people we met were Sebastians or Abrahams which was a massive change from everywhere else in India. It is also the first place we have visited where people have understood Andrew's name without question and can pronounce it. In Kerala it is the name of a Christian disciple and therefore “Very Good Name Sir!”. In the rest of India, Andy is a Hindi word, meaning 'big wind'.... I will let you all make your own conclusions as to whether this is appropriate or not. No fear! It is not only Andrew that became accepted as like a religious icon in Kerala. Kochi is the location of the first, and probably only, time in my life that I have been told that I resemble the main woman, the Virgin Mary. Chatting with six fishermen on their fishing platform they wanted me to stand under their photo of Mother Mary so they could admire the resemblance. I left the platform pretty swiftly unsure as to whether I was upset or flattered... well Grandma Thornton would be proud I suppose! We stayed just long enough to help them haul up the net and admire their catch from earlier in the day, the toothiest fish I have ever seen!

We had heard rumours that Kerala was a popular destination with elephants and when we had the opportunity to visit the elephant sanctuary to see the nellies who had been rescued from the forest as babies be bathed and looked after we were straight on the road. Chilling out by the lake whilst elephants were having a wash next to locals brushing their teeth was a pretty memorable morning. One of the elephants took a liking to Andy and came up for some stroking. Both Andy and Trumpy were pretty pleased with the affection. We then went to visit the elephants at home and saw babies that were 45 and 65 days old that had fallen down holes in the forest and couldn't get out. Their mothers had left them as there was no way for them to survive in the wild if they couldn't escape. The mahouts had found the babies and brought them to the centre to bring them up, feeding them with elephant milk (I am still not sure how they got hold of it to be honest... I don't envy the elephant milking wallah after seeing the big elephants up close).

Now with our elephant fill for the day we headed up to Munnar in the Keralan hills. Munnar is the tea capital of India. Heading up into the amazing scenery of the misty mountains you are suddenly faced with deep green tea fields as far as the eye can see. The blanket of green is punctuated with tropical flowers of every colour and women picking tea like machines moving from one bush to another picking the freshest leaves to take to the factory. It makes you appreciate where your morning brew comes from when you see the speed that these women work at! The journey was amazing; driving past working elephants wandering up the road, then stopping at waterfalls, next to crowds of monkeys and men climbing palm trees to get to bees nest to nick their honey and sell it at the side of the road. Topping off the day was a visit to a spice farm where we took a tour round finding out what plants herbs and spices grew on, their medicinal properties and how to spot them. Andy was in his element dreaming of the past days of his allotment.

After a mad day we got dropped off at a guest house in the middle of a tropical forest, about 10 miles away from civilisation. We took off up the path for a wander so that we could put our new coffee and cardamon spotting skills to the test. We had a vague idea the path led to a waterfall. We were wrong! It actually led to a cow farm where a little old lady met us at the gate and chatted away to us in Malayman as she presented to us her dogs, her rabbits, her chickens, her cows and her prize bull. We chatted back in English and although neither of us had any idea what the other was saying we did manage to come to agreement that one of the dogs was a Corgie. The lady seemed highly amused by my hair and my face and touched both quite a lot. If you wandered uninvited onto a farm in the UK speaking a strange language and started having a look around there is a major possibility that you might get a gun pointed at you... in India you get welcomed in, no questions asked and an impromptu tour. You then get offered chapatti. You have got to love this country.

We headed out the next day to the Tea Museum. Set up by the Tata Tea Company you are guided round the whole tea making process and surrounded by machinery. You are also provided with a healthy bit of propaganda on the social welfare put in place by the company with a compulsory VHS viewing. It is a bit like an Indian version of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory ( perhaps; Tamwar and the Tea Factory is more fitting) and you are given a cup of Chay and tea at various stages of the process to have a sniff of. A day out that I think the whole Lancashire family would have enjoyed!

On the way back to Kochi we had one more stop off and it was the highlight of the trip... we needed another daily elephant top up and this time decided that washing was not enough. Today we wanted to be on the beasts and go for a meander through the tropical forest. Andy was holding out for a bull with big tusks but we ended up with Maneesha, the most dependable elephant in the world. Maneesha's mahout chatted away to her throughout the trip and at any point he just had to mutter something and she turned or lifted her trunk as he wanted. No worry about mistreated elephants here. Where other places we have seen working elephants being hit by sticks when they misbehaved... our elephant carried her own stick to free the mahout's hands up as he fancied himself as Jans Artur Bertrand when he got his hands on our camera. No worries about our elephant riding not being documented there then! Feeding our nellie a few pineapples and corn on the cob we were back on the road to Kochi and snoozing all the way after our active time in Kerala!

Kochi was a stop over before our next essential Keralan experience.... the Backwaters....

Posted by Annie Thornton 22:11 Archived in India Tagged elephants tea kerala munnar kochi Comments (0)

Sea, Sun and Sand in Goa

sunny 35 °C

Goa
If Mumbai is the slick modern city, a symbol of India's wealth and prosperity, then Goa is colourful party state, a symbol of the cultural diversity, especially the mix of religions creeds and colours. Arriving in Goa was a refreshing change from the hustle and bustle of the big smokes and desert landscapes. Goa has a clean and enticing coast line, many rivers and lakes (filled with Crocodiles!) whilst the rest of the landscape is made up from jungles, forests and scrub land.

Anjuna
We wanted to stay in Goa for a week, and we didn't really want to travel around so we flipped a coin as to going North to Anjuna, or South to Palolem. Heads it was, so we headed to Anjuna via Mapusa. Anjuna was lovely, a little bit rough around the edges, lots of bars and restaurants and lots of beaches – all within walking distance or a quick trip on the scooter.

Within the first day of being in Anjuna, I learnt how to ride a scooter, which is pretty simple if you know how to ride a push bike: go, stop, left, right. The Indians drive on the left hand side of the road and I didn't need to worry about traffic because Anjuna and the surrounding areas were very quiet. The scooter was fantastic. It enabled us to ride to Vagator beach and Mojim Beach which was quieter and the sea was calmer. The sea at Anjuna was quiet dangerous owing to the ferocious current and amount of rocks on the sea bed, it didn’t deter me though, I still swam in it!

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Whilst at our little hotel, we met a nice couple from London (Jaime and Becky) who had been in Australia for two years working, so we got chatting and ended up going to a nightclub (£10 a couple all drinks included!) so we got wasted and chatted cod shite all evening! Needless to say we didn't see the next morning due to our hangovers.

I would recommend North Goa to anyone wanting a package holiday type experience with nice beaches, beer and food (the fish is amazing), but its nothing more than that.

After 6 days of sun sea and sand we headed to the Capital City of Goa; Panjim, with many water ways, Portuguese colonial buildings, casino boats and little parks.

Old Goa
A day trip from Panjim was advised by the Lonely Planet, and our own tourist advisor back home in England Stevie T. Old Goa is an abandoned capital city due to an outbreak of disease in the 16C. Apparently it used to be larger than London in the 16C before it was abandoned, which seems a little exaggerated to me, however Old Goa is a world heritage site owing to its historic, architectural and archaeological importance. There are so many large and grand churches here. Its like having the Vatican, St Pauls Cathedral and a few Kirkstall Abbeys all within a few hundred metres of each other. Annie got excited by all of the figurines of St Francis of Assisi and the local hero St Francis Xavier, but did not buy one; I think she's holding out for a Gandhi figurine.

It seems that the Old Goans are also good at carving larger models of world heros and religious icons because there was also a Multiethnic Wax Works Museum including sculptures of the last supper, Gandhi, Genghus Khan, Mother Tereasa, Sai Baba and my personal favourite scene called 'DRUGS ARE BAD'.

An overnight bus (14hours) awaits to the state of Kerala and Capital City Kochi.

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Posted by Annie Thornton 21:54 Archived in India Tagged the goa old last supper anjuna panjim Comments (0)

Down South...

Udaipur to Mumbai

sunny 27 °C

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Now sudden celebrity is a hard thing to stomach for any civilian... the constant pressure of the press, being recognised in the street and having to maintain that public image that people recognise and adore. Andy took to the lifestyle of a sudden celebrity footballer with real style... but the pressure of the paparazzi was difficult. As such we chose to get out of Pushkar and get to the quieter shores of Udaipur where many a Bollywood and Indian TV personality hang out to escape the constant publicity. Life as a WAG was not something I anticipated for myself.

Udaipur is in South Rajastan and after time in the camel towns of the desert we thought we were having a mirage when we saw the giant lake at Udaipur's heart. The town is based on the shores of the lake and at it's centre is a massive palace which looks like it is floating on the water. If you have seen the James Bond film Octopussy then Udaipur is where it is filmed. If you haven't seen the film you can rent the film from blockbusters or go to Udaipur where you can catch a viewing of the film... on any street... in apparently every bar and restaurant... back to back... at every hour of day or night. Needless to say we ended up catching it a couple of times.

Come 7pm Udaipur begins to resemble Beirut as the sky explodes in bangs and flashes of fireworks. One thing we have come to appreciate about India is that they love a good firework. Udaipur is the trendy place to get married so firework displays light up the sky every night from all sides. Not a bad view when you are sitting on a roof top with a bottle of Kingfisher overlooking the lake!

Refreshed, relaxed and recuperated we headed on a new night train to Mumbai/Bombay. We had reservations as we had become accustomed to being in laid back small towns rather than the scrum of the city but we were impressed with the spectacle that is Mumbai from the moment we disembarked the train/rickshaw/train combo which got us to the centre of Mumbai from Rajastan in the express time of 20 hours.

The night we arrived, we walked down to the Gateway of India to see the buildings on the front lit up. Sitting and watching the milling crowds of tourists, salesmen, sailors, boatmen, beggars and imagining the changing face of this tiny jetty over the last 200 years was something I won't forget in a hurry. Suddenly, from nowhere I was handed a baby and acquired a five foot tall old lady in a multicolour sari hanging off my arm whilst photo-wallahs had a field day snapping away. Now I was back to being the celebrity instead of Andy... a return to Indian normality.

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Whilst in Mumbai we had agreed on two priorities, a trip to Elephanta Island and Gin and Tonics at the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel. We did both in one Big Day Out in Mumbai and it was one that neither us, nor the credit card, will forget in a long time! (Only joking Mum! We are being financially responsible!)

On Elephanta Island, Andy became a real lover of ancient temple carvings; he bought a book, he gazed in wonder and spent a long time admiring each sculpture in detail. I was initially impressed with Andrew's new found love of ancient history. This was until I cottoned on to the fact that his real motivation was the absolutely enormous pair of baps that are carved on the Goddess Parvati on each sculpture. When we found a little cafe that served Chicken Handi and cold Kingfisher for a post temple pick me up, Andy was very chuffed with his cultural day.

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Now I never realised that smog could be beautiful or romantic, but coming back on the boat from Elephanta to Mumbai it managed to be just that. As the sun was setting over the city you could see all the historic buildings of the water front and all the skyscrapers of today glowing red and orange though the haze hanging over the city. Mumbai may hold the record for the amount of rats I have seen in one place (Record: 2. And one of them was eating toast inside the entrance of our less than sterling hotel) but pulling into the Gateway of India at sunset you could easily forget that and just appreciate how stunning the skyline is.

After a quick change in the Rat Pit and an excursion onto the streets to buy Andrew some shoes we were dolled up and ready to play the part in the top class Taj Mahal Palace Hotel. Full of images from books and stories I was pretty chuffed with myself, pulling up in an old school Ambassador taxi, getting in (that was the first hurdle we were worried we wouldn't make!) and then settling down for Gin and Tonic in the Harbour Bar! I bored Andy for at least an hour trying to tell him the plot line of 'A Night in Bombay' whilst Andy tried to get his moneys worth from the extortionate drink prices by eating the place out of the complimentary crisps, fried beans and nuts. After we spent up (it didn't take long!) we headed into the hotel to explore the luxury from the inside. A quick stop in the toilets, where they have attendants who volunteer to do everything but wipe your bum for you... I think you have to ask for that service if you need it.... and they ensure that your cubical is squirted with perfume before you enter (bear in mind the Rat Pit Hotel had shared unisex squat toilets...) we wandered into the hallways and the posh shops inside. We were home and dry until we got the camera out and then the Secret Service of the Taj Mahal were on us very quickly and politely enquiring as to whether we were guests at the hotel? (code: Get out you backpacking imposters). We left and found an altogether more affordable drinking hole to end the night. Memorable to say the least!

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Mumbai was topped off with a visit to the Dhobi Ghat, which is essentially an area where all the washing of clothes is done for the whole of Mumbai. It is a bit like a giant, human powered washing machine with men, women and children beating the dirt out of clothes continuously in a kind of ancient times conveyor belt. I agree it is a strange thing to go see but it is a real spectacle! Andy was less than impressed as he has grown a hatred of hand-washing on this trip. However, when wandering round he found a reason to be there as a kid threw him a cricket ball in the backstreet. That was that, Andy was suddenly the star bowler of the street cricket match. The cricket field was the general street, the boundary for a four was the buildings on either side and the wicket was an old trailer. The fielders were stood on the tin roofs of the nearby buildings and the crease was the line down the middle of the road. The game was occasionally interrupted by laundry vans, cows and general cars wanting to use the cricket pitch to get to their destination (selfish or what) but my word did Andy get a crowd (maybe he was missing his celebrity status as footballer after all).

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Again leaving a sporting legacy in our wake, we departed for pastures new.

Posted by Annie Thornton 21:55 Archived in India Tagged palace lake mumbai udaipur gateway_of_india Comments (0)

The Aint No Party Like a Pushkar Party

The Pushkar Camel Fair

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Hello – We have been in Pushkar for the Annual Camel Fair for the past week and it has not been disappointing. Every year the fair attracts 100,000 camels and 1000's of horses, cows, goats and elephants for buying selling, racing, showing off and general debates about the size of your camels humps, or how many people you can fit onto your camel. Myself and Annie have already been on a camel ride, but we thought we would try out the camel taxi! I'm fascinated by camels, there are so many uses for them! The camel taxi (basically a camel which pulls a four poster bed on a truck) took us on a journey around the fair for about an hour and only cost us 250rupees, which was a bargain. Annie received many complements (and she did actually look beautiful in her newly acquired dress) from turban wearing camel and horse men along the journey. As the sun sets over the camel field you can hear the moans and groans of thousands of camels and the arguing and busking of local camel traders and gypsys. What a sight to see and hear.

We arrived on 31st October, a few days earlier than expected because we'd heard good things about Pushkar – not just the camel fair. Pushkar is a holy place, and this means that it is a vegetarian city (including no eggs) and no beer/drugs/dressing provocatively, and it is set within a valley and centred around a holy lake with holy men and ghats aplenty. Holding hands is strictly forbidden as is other forms of affection and inappropriate dressing and nudity. Despite these very strict we saw at least three contraventions within two minutes of walking round the lake – a little old lady smoking what can only be described as a crack/opium pipe whilst having her babs out in the lake! Annie skipt around her whilst I got a full on view of the merry lady who nemaste'ed me to complete the comedy picture, and had to laugh out loud trying to keep myself from falling in the lake!

The entrance to Pushkar lake is littered with 'holy men' giving you flowers, whom then lead you to the side of the lake to participate in a Puja, which is basically a prayer to the Gods for health, goodwill, prosperity in your family and friends. You need to repeat a mantra over and over again (however Hindu's do this 108 times – for this is a good number) then have to give money dependant on how much you love you family and friends – basically, its a bit of a gimmick to give money – I've never been emotionally blackmailed before from a 'priest' as he called himself, so I called his bluff and told him to shove it! Actually, I gave 60 rupees for me and Annie. This whole procedure is called a Pushkar Passport! And yes, it is a con for the toursist, but I actually enjoyed the mantra. Sorry to say that Dad, Ian Sue Sophie Will, you were only worth 60 rupees! I'm sure Dad would be more proud of me for not getting conned out of £50!

The camel fair was meant to start on 2nd November, but in true Indian relaxed style the fair started on the 3rd November and a few hours late. In fact most of the fair including the fairground and parts of the circus were also incomplete. The program started with some dancing girls, and then a camel race around the stadium. I did not care much for the dancing but the camel race was more impressive.

The Chak de Rajastan Football Match!

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The fair is internationally renowned and it rightly attracts many tourists, locals and the regional /national press. I'm told that the the first days activities are the best, which includes local dancing, a camel race and the Chak de Rajestan football match between the local team and a team made up from budding tourists who fancy their chances. Being fit and healthy, not to mention an excellent football player (dont laugh!) this match was right up my street. The match was due to start at 11am, and I turned up at 10am to register myself for the tourists team – I was the first on the list too! The Mela Stadium began to fill up, however only 5 tourists had registered by 11am, so I took it upon myself to rally people by asking every tourist in the stadium if they wanted to play. This enthusiastic act was rewarded by the organisers making me captain of the tourist team! Never before have I captained a football side, and I was determined to do a good job by organising the team, sorting out positions for the squad of 16. Our team consisted of English, Italian, Australian, South African, Israelis and a Dutch girl who was probably our best player. The time was about 1pm and we were given a proper football kit to wear, then we had to line up in the centre circle (which was only laid about ten minutes before with chalk from a bag) to meet the dignitaries (of whom we did not know), but looked really important. Being captain, I had to introduce the important people to the rest of the team and I was given a some flowers which I had to present to this important man! It was so crazy, I felt like David Beckham (only for a brief second!). The actual football match was for 25 minutes a half and playing on sand in the middle of the day, and was pretty difficult. Just before we kicked off, our Australian goal keeper pointed out that the only people out in the mid day sun are mad dogs and Englishmen – and he was correct, being India there were mad dogs on the pitch... and us Englishmen , as well as the odd cow... it is India after all! We started the match brightly, and I nearly scored within the first 2 minutes from a cross by the Dutch Girl which I had to leap high in the air, but unfortunately it just grazed the cross bar. This was to be my only chance in the match! Despite the good start and a few more chances from our team, we went 3 nil down by half time (our goalie had never played football before!) At the interval all of the national media wanted to do a half time interview with the captain of the Tourist Team – which was me! It was a real media scrum, about 5 cameras, 10 microphones (all with names branded on them like TV24 India, News Now, India Today, etc..) I have to say that I gave a good account of the occasion by thanking the organisers and the opposition. I said that even though I’m from Manchester, unfortunately I cant play football like Manchester City or Manchester Utd football stars aka Wayne Rooney, but I did say that people say I look like Peter Crouch. I cant help but think my little joke fell on deaf ears. Needless to say my name went into the Times of India (page 2) as 'Peter'. Anyway, we started the second half brightly and managed to bundle in a goal from 6 yards. The final score was actually 4-1, but we didn’t care, we all just loved being involved. I was interviewed after the match again by all the media again, and they just let me ramble on for about 10 minutes. It was such an amazing experience, we even got trophy’s and certificates presented in the stand by the mayor and other important people. My trophy is now proudly sitting in the hostel on thr highest shelf in the reception area, alongside the 2010 turban tying competition trophy! I loved every minute of the Chak De Rajestan Football Match – an incredible memory. Apparently I was on national TV at 7pm that day but didn’t see it.

Pushkar was a great place to stay and I would recommend anyone to go there because you get a real flavour of the Rajastani culture and customs.

Hope you enjoy the blog. Peace and Love. Andy x

Posted by Annie Thornton 01:08 Archived in India Tagged fair camel rajastan pushkar Comments (0)

Happy Diwali from Jaisalmer

Fireworks in the desert....

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Rejuvenated and ready for action, me and Andrew were feeling very positive about our impressive organisation booking our trains in advance and having dates set to be in each town. Imagine our horror when two days before Diwali we were packing ready for our night train to the desert and we realised we were still on the wait-list and therefore basically not on the train. We debated our options;

Option 1: 12 hours overnight in the unreserved section of a train that had set off from Delhi. Positives, this would get us to our preferred destination on time. Negatives: Although we are always prepared to spend a few hours in general class and can climb in the baggage rack and get down with the chickens like the best of them... the overnight trains generally have four people to a bunk at the first stop and any subsequent passengers hang out of the doors. Summarised: High chance of reaching destination, high chance of death.

Option 2: Bite the bullet and get a 'Delux Night Bus'. Now I know what you are thinking, Delux sounds good. Those of you who have visited India however will know that there is no 'standard' in India, 'Delux' is in fact the bottom of the scale. This is then followed by 'Super Delux', 'Superior Super Delux' and then 'Air Conditioned' which does to some level qualify the standard of all the previous classes). We took the bus and were pretty chuffed. We were given a sort of space age pod with a double mattress in and a door that closed and shut everyone out. Negatives: we stopped in Jodhpur and had to swop buses to one with considerably more passengers and considerably less room. It also happened to be full of passengers carrying Diwali fireworks, and happily lighting matches and smoking near the paper bags containing them. Again, high risk of death. However, we indeed reached our destination and were welcomed by comedy touts who gave us a cheap lift to the hotel we had already booked in hope of commission. They did not get any. Annie and Andrew (1) Unscrupulous Touts (0).

So Jaisalmer awaited us. Negotiating a discount on the room we had already booked we were welcomed into the family at our guest house which had a view of the fort from the roof top terrace. Jaisalmer consists of what can only be described of a massive sand castle in the middle of the Great Thar Desert with a little town surrounding it. The fort is filled with Haveli, Jain Temples, beautiful buildings and winding bazaars around the palace itself. Unlike other forts we had visited, this one is still inhabited by the usual collection of men, women, armies of children, cows, camels, buffalos etc. This is somewhat multiplied by the limited room and the narrow streets. We were expecting hassle in Jaisalmer but did not find any. People were pleasant and really interesting. Eco tourism seems to be picking up here and we met locals who were running organic farming set ups in the desert growing watermelons (now until I saw watermelons growing in the desert I didn't believe it either, but as you are regularly informed by locals here 'in India, everything is possible!)

The whole spectacle of a giant inhabited sand castle is worth seeing and just watching the light changing on the sandstone throughout the day and night is entertaining in itself as it is so beautiful. Here I found the Rajastan I was expecting, and did not find, in Jaipur. Camels pulling carts through bazaars, turbaned men herding goats in the main square, all the colours of the rainbow, masala chay in winding alleys and sunsets sitting on cushions with the obligatory Kingfisher on low tables sat on russet cushions. I was, and remain, disgustingly smug with the whole scenario and I apologise for it!

The whole experience was multiplied as it was the time of Diwali, the festival of lights, and we were here for the 26th October, the big night! Now, we took a peaceful evening meal in the fort surrounded by oil lamps and watching children play with sparklers. Very peaceful and pretty. Then we went into the town and embarked in our journey into the real Diwali.

I was plagued by those government videos they used to show you at school every year near bonfire night, 'Firework Safety'. You know the kind, all centring around poor little Johnny who returned to an unlit firework whilst using a sparkler without gloves on and was simultaneously blinded and burnt his fingers. Either they don't have these videos in India, or the children here have no fear of Little Johnny's fate as children as young as three and four were setting off rockets and fountains in the street whilst their parents looked on clapping and cheering. Hundreds of ruppees must have gone up in smoke and rainbow flames in Jaisalmer that night.

We wandered off the main strip onto a residential street. Any other day there may have been a cow grazing on plastic and some kids playing chase. Today the whole thing resembled a mine field during a colourful but dangerous war. Every third step there was a firework two steps away, people ran wild laughing and shouting. Me and Andrew were both amazed and terrified until we were rescued from the street by a local family who took us indoors and gave us chappati and Diwali sweets on the floor of the kitchen. The whole family wanted photographs taking with Andy, without Andy, with each other, with the cow....

We saw out the night with more fireworks (apparently you can never get enough) with the hotel boys. We retired to bed and did not sleep as apparently even dawn does not dull the effect of a really big rocket... 6am firework display anyone? I can recommend a good one!

The one thing you will hear alot of in Jaisalmer is 'camel safari? camel safari?' and being the camel loving pair that we are, we thought why not and went off into the desert along with a German Yoga Teacher, his wife, two local blokes, a child they kept around to do the washing up, and five camels. Andrew immediately developed a bond with his camel, Jondeer (who might as well have been called John Dear for the amount of affection that the camel man and Andy put upon his fur). Jondeer was a prize racing camel and we went off to a village for the camel herder to prove this to us when we sounded slightly cynical. Jondeer came 2nd.... Pretty good, although 2 out of six camels took off in the wrong direction when the starter firework was set off (oh yes, fireworks have many uses!) My camel, Acora... or Our Cora as I preferred, was altogether more mardy and was not having any affection. My camel also was disgusted by any attempt to speed it us, or guide it's course. However, we reached an understanding; I sit up top and don't bother her, she will do all the work and not bother me.

Sleeping under the stars on the sand dunes was fantastic. Andy totted up three shooting stars through the night. With no light pollution we could see everything and Andy did his best impression of a professor to inform me what we were looking at. Now, imagine our surprise when out of the peace and quiet of the desert came the 'Off License Camel' loaded up with ice boxes and Kingfisher at an altogether not bad mark up considering the commute. A night to be remembered!

With a new found love for the Delux Bus and a determination to try and stay out of main cities where possible, we have skipped dusty Jodhpur in favour of the lake sides of Pushkar a bit early for more camel related fun.

Posted by Annie Thornton 02:11 Archived in India Tagged safari camel rajastan jaisalmer Comments (0)

Agraaaaaa and Jaipuuuuurrrr

This blog entry is currently under the second draft atop a laptop in a strop

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Entry coming soon by Andrew Lancashire Esq

AGRA (Agr-errrr!) and Jaipurrrrrr!

Welcome to the long awaited blog that I (Andy) have written. Now I know that Annie is developing a little bit of a fan club back in the UK, however, I have been busy with Town Planning duties, which perhaps if I publish, we would not have as many readers. The following events happened about just over two weeks ago, prior to Diwali – so arriving in Agra was about the 19th October.

Agra is the home of the most famous building in the world and it is where Annie and I decided to stay for three nights. The train journey from Delhi was about 5 hours following a one hour delay and unfortunately this journey was the scene of which Delhi bely was to once again rear its ugly head into my bowels. There is no worse place to visit than a speeding train with a hole in the floor – trust me...

Moving on – we arrived in Agra to a horde of rickshaw wallahs wanting to take us to their hotel. Apparently, they make upto 5% on budding tourist who opt for the hotels on offer. However, we held firm and asked for a specific location then spent the next hour comparing hotels and prices. Agra itself is small city (perhaps half a million) but it looks like something from the dark ages, with modest commerce, and restaurants for the masses of tourists whom are there for only one or two reasons – the Taj Mahal and Agra Fort.

Our hotel was basic and I spent the next day watching films on HBO due to my illness, but felt much better the next day and we got our tickets for the Taj. The Taj Mahal which most of you will know, was built in memory of Shah Jehan's second wife Mumataz and is in my opinion the most beautiful building ever built by mankind. The pure white marbel, intricate details, four symetical towers, bulbous domes make it a real treat for the eye, which set against a backdrop of blue sky make it a worthy tomb – I wonder what the first wife got? It wasnt actually that busy inside the complex, and we moseyed around for a few hours. I sat on the 'Princess Diana bench' and made a silly pose whilst Annie beat of queues of people trying to take photos of her – so just like a normal day in India.

Now on recommendation from Stephen Thornton we headed out on local bus to Fatehpur Sikri, the short lived capital, and now abandoned ancient settlement. In an email suggestion, Dad assured us that we would need at least one and a half day's to fully explore this archaeological site. Now, experienced as I am with my Dad's archaeological estimates (a thirsty day in Pompei comes quickly to mind) I think me and Andrew did the correct amount of time at the site in about three to four hours. This time scale is somewhere between American tour bus visitors and the avid historian in woolly cardigan. (Annie – She has again wrestled the computer off me.)

(bloody el, back to Annie Author) - By now me and Andrew have become quite the experts at refusing would be tour guides with a quick rendition of 'No Limit' by Two Unlimited (with a slight lyric correction to 'No no, no no no no, no no no no, no no NO NO TOUR GUIDE!'). However, this does hold its complications when you enter a site and realise you don't really know what you are looking at. However, Andrew worked hard to fill the gap that a local tour guide left us when armed with his lonely planet and best Indian accent he became my personal tour guide and led me round the monument pointing out all the best Jain decorative carvings (hope your impressed Dad!). This provided amusement for all in the vicinity and saved us somewhere in the region of 50 – 6000 ruppees (prices are highly negotiable in Rajastan it appears!). Therefore we now present;

Annie and Andrew's No Nonsense Travel Guide
Edition One Fatehpur Sikri
(N.B. Content may not be entirely historically accurate and authors will not be held liable for any offence caused or misunderstanding as a result of this travel guide).

Fatehur Sirkri is located 40km North of Agra and was the short lived capital of the Mughal Empire (1571-1585). The settlement was the brainchild of Mur protagonist and all round eccentric Emperor Akbar. In Akbar's excitement to build up his new location in lightning speed so that he could get to the interior design (Akbar was a big fan of Changing Rooms and Handy Andy), he forgot one important thing and built his complex in an area with massive water shortages. Silly Akbar! Therefore when Akbar popped his clogs, all his minions packed their bags and set up in an all together more sensible location near the local spring where they could have a decent shower and avoid the frustration of Akbar's frequent hose pipe bans.

However, for his life time his minions humoured the old eccentric and Fatehpur Sikri is a monument to this. Akbar built himself a reet big mosque and this remains open to all. Tolerant guy that he was, there is a huge mix of styles in the décor and engravings. Fre to enter and thronging today with would be bracelet sellers and people eating chappati the courtyard and tombs are well woth a visit (although it remains unclear where everyone gets the chappatis they are eating from). Be prepared, Andrew was slightly put out when he discovered he was required to pay 10 rupees for the rent of his Muslim head cover. However, the one they gave him was unique and slightly resembled a plastic cullinder and how often to you get to wear one of those in public? Everyone elses head covers were slightly less eccentric. If Akbar would have had plastic in his time, we like to think that the cullinder inspired effort would have been his personal preference.

The main beauty of the site is the palaces. Now as we have established, Akbar was no stranger to a bit of excess in his life and his love life was no exception to this decadence. Now it is unclear how many wives Akbar had, but we know he liked three a fair bit more than the others, and those three got a palace each.

Akbar was a man who liked to cover his bases. Therefore, just to be on the safe side he made sure that his preferred wives were all of a different religion, one Hindu, one Christian and one Muslim.

The Hindu wife was the preferred wife. She exercised regularly, was really good at Ludo (of which Akbar was a huge fan) and always let Akbar be in control of the TV remote. As such, she was rewarded with the biggest palace. The gift of a massive courtyard, rooms with vaulted ceilings and balconies meant that the Hindu wife was not short of space.

Now after viewing this spectacle, me and Andrew found ourselves feeling a bit sorry for Mariam, Akbar's Christian wife. Now Mariam's palace was more luxury apartment than palace complex and a wee bit short changed. Akbar, dismissing Mariam's love for Christianity, also got inspired by Lawrence Lewellen Bowen's new 'Hindu Collection' and went about drawing Shiva all over the walls of Mariam's space. Silly Akbar! Poor Mariam!

However, even Mariam was doing alright in comparison with the Turkish Muslim wife who was afforded minimal floor space in her abode. Sure the carving was beautiful and it makes a lovely visit, but sleeping in a four foot space must have been a bit difficult and would have brought about a lot of resentment towards the other wives in their posh pads. We can only deduce from the small space she was given that the Turkish wife was terrible at Ludo! That can always put a strain on any relationship.

At least our Turkish wife managed to survive Akbar's other punishments; being forced into being a living Ludo piece like the slave girls or being trampled by charging elephants along with convicted criminals.

All in all Fatehpur Sikri makes a great day out and we became strangely attached to Akbar by the end of our visit. Perhaps history would have been different and the settlement would be up there today with New York or Hong Kong if Akbar had only appointed a certain Barnoldswick based, sustainably minded and water orientated planning consultant... who knows.

Thanks for that interlude about Faterpur Sikri Annie. However all you need know is that is was abandoned and along came Agra Fort, and the Taj. Now Agra may have water but if you look at the state of it (the river), you would rather drink your own piss, or perhaps just buy bottled water!

Next city on the tour is Jaipur – the Pink City. We took a daytime train to Jaipiur (6hours - 400km) and was very comfortable. All through our trip we have been guided by the Lonely Planet India book but we had lost the part about Jaipur so we followed a couple to the their hotel (Merlin and Catherine – from Berlin and Poulton) which was lovely and chilled out and full of other western tourist. We met a Manchester fellow who gave us his section of Jaipur from his lonely planet book. You can always count on a Manc geezer.. ps: Man Utd 1-6 Citeh!!!! come on!!

I can see the attraction with Jaipur. Its a growing city, easy to navigate, plenty of forts, museums, temples and notable buildings, all painted pink. The city really is buzzing because the city is so compact and tightly developed unlike Delhi which is spread out across a vast area.

It is the start of Dewali (24th Oct) and all of the buildings and streets are decorated with lights, candles, gold and silver leaf etc (Dewali; the festival of lights – good triumphing over evil, and a party for Goddess Laxhmi). The atmosphere is magical, people with families, shopping, buying presents, smiling, laughing and being happy. Its a shame we aren’t staying here longer because the main squares are being set up for a massive festival for the 26th October).

Whilst we were in Jaipur we visited the Amber fort – and what a formidable and grand place it is. Set on the hillside, surrounded by lakes and valleys, the fort is more a series of palaces and gardens. We were promised Elephants by the Lonely Planet, but they must have been hired out for Devali events – so we walked to the top with our own legs. If you were fortunate enough to have money in the Mughal empire period, it was even more difficult to protect your assets and family. The Mughals were certainly cultured and educated, they could also build very effective defensive structures, as evidenced at so many places throughout India.

England have been playing a one day international series with India at Cricket. We are currently getting slaughtered 4 -0 (its very hard not to know the score – everyone is a cricket fanatic), soon to be 5-0 because we are playing shite. The young Indians cant resist it when they find out our nationality to gloat and point four fingers in our faces.

Leaving Jaipur was not as easy peasy, lovely jubly (as the Indians say) as we expected. However, we are hear to tell the tale as Annie describes in the last blog entry.

Posted by Annie Thornton 02:10 Archived in India Comments (0)

Varanasi and back to Delhi

Well it's just not cricket... wait a minute!

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Back in New Delhi where it all began one month and two days ago. We are treading water for an hour before we depart again! We feel we have now mastered going North and East, next, South and West! Our train for the dreamlands of Agra is awaiting and then on to the deserts! Due to the speedy leadup to Diwali on the 26th October trains are booked solid so we have had to do some planning in advance for a change (shocker) but what this meant is that we know we are definately going to be in Rajastan for Diwali , we are going to get to Udaipur and we are all booked to go to the Pushkar Camel Fair at the start of November! Suddenly feel very organised!

We left off in Varanasi where, from re-reading my blog entry, I was apparently somewhat overcome by the dirt of it all. Varanasi or Benares turned out to be one of my favourite stops so far. It is really something rowing down the Ganges as sunset watching Buffalo bathe in the water, pilgrims praying and holy men performing rituals with fire to celebrate the river and Mother Ganga. The streets are manic; rickshaw-wallahs at every corner waiting for you to linger for just a moment in order to pounce, helpful children cum forceful tour guides and silk merchants who are apparently are desperate to set their goods on fire just to prove to you (somehow) that they are genuine silk. All this is just part of the 'game' of India. Dodging through it all becomes a bit like a life size game of Paperboy from the Sega Megadrive and the feeling of achievement you get when you reach your destination is much better when you have to fight for it!

One thing to be aware of is that the auto rickshaw drivers in Varanasi will argue to the back teeth over a 10 ruppee increase in the fare price. You will find that wherever you want to go there are apparently Road Taxes, Closed Roads, Uphill sections that use more fuel and it is always 'long long far'. All these things make it more expensive for the driver... apparently. Now, saying that they are so sure that all these thigs are in the close vicinity of your location, only when you have agreed the price and set off will it become clear that the rickshaw driver a) actually has no idea where your location is... and b) doesn't actually have any petrol. I think we saw more of the petrol station in Varanasi from the back of a rickshaw than anywhere else! Comedy!

So, 12 hotel beds, 2 night train beds and 1 night bus later and we arrived back in Delhi, for one reason and one reason only... for Andy to represent the England fans single handedly at the India vs England One Day Cricket International and what a job he did. Showing my commitment to our upcoming nuptuals, I spent the two nights before learning the rules of cricket (I know family and friends, I can hardly believe it either!) Armed with glasses, salt shakers, matchboxes and sugar bowls... and oiled with a few Kingfishers... Andy went through all the rules, the positions and the hand signals whilst demonstrating with his table top representation of a cricket pitch. This was much to the amusement of other drinkers in the bar and the waiters. What Andy did not mention was that the Cricket we were going to see lasted for 8 hours.

We got tickets in the cheapest stand so were in the rough and tumble of it. People were sharing seats, climbing up poles and dancing for all 8 hours. Luckily, we were again a novelty so we got seats, and a running commentary from all sides in a variety of languages regarding the action. The crowd seemed to think Andy was a representation of England. When England scored a six, rather than clapping and cheering at the players, the whole India crowd in our stand turned to Andy and cheered along with him. Andy conducted them in songs and chants and shook hands like he was in the team. When India caught England out or got a six themselves, they again turned to us and cheered at Andy again. England lost, India was happy, Andrew was popular, Andrew was happy. Every so often we switched allegience and cheered for India... when we did that, people cheered for us. Crazy days!

Onwards and downwards! Our train awaits!

Posted by Annie Thornton 23:32 Archived in India Tagged varanasi delhi cricket_odi Comments (0)

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