Indian cultural decisions

India is a country, like many others, that doesn’t really give a flying f**k about it’s citizens. I am told that the corruption is rife but I have to admit that I’ve barely looked at Indian politics. Indian cultural decisions, to me as a western observer, seem way out of date, they subjugate and repress the people through strictures and mores that really no longer should apply in an up and coming nation of the 21 century (in the Christian calendar).

While the cost of living in India is low, the wages are worse. As with any country the vast majority live from hand to mouth, struggling daily to make ends meet and pay off the debts that the society has forced them into. While the politicians promise the world, deliver nothing, accept their various bribes and incentives from their crony capitalist friends in the world in which we currently live.

Democracy is an illusion, a preset program long installed by the powerful, to make you think that you have a say in society, have a voice. You don’t. The world is currently dictated to by banks, big corporations and their political pals who hand down control and perpetuate the illusion of freedom of choice whilst exploiting the citizens and making them poorer.

Control through Indian cultural decisions

But that’s not all… The Indian cultural decisions are oppressive and repressive. Most of the Indians I have talked to will tell you “It’s part of our Indian culture, it’s been like this for thousands of years” like that’s an excuse for being oppressed, subjugated, downtrodden and repressed. Yet their age old culture doesn’t include cheap tatty LED decoration, bling bling on cars, mobile phones, digital TV, T-shirts, Brand name running shoes or any of the other accoutrements of the age and western introduced capitalism, but they are accepted into the way of life… now. So culture is also a pre-programmed illusion to which these lovely people acquiesce.

The main thing I’m thinking about are arranged marriages, caste separation, segregation of the sexes, dress codes, dietary restrictions, and the list goes on.

Marriage is an Indian cultural decision too

I know a young girl. She’s just eighteen, at the time of writing, and at college in her first year. She’s just been told that she will be getting married in a few months to a lad of twenty two that she doesn’t know and that lives in a different country. All this is because he’s from a good family and because it will bring prestige to the parents. So feel free to screw up your daughter’s life so that your social standing is approved of by colleagues and neighbours?

I’ve seen plenty of wedding invitations since being here. They will frequently include the qualifications of the people about to be joined in this draconian match-making. Ajith Patel Ba Eco is marrying Swati Kumar BSc. This is about social standing too. Who gives a rat’s ass about their academic qualifications when at a wedding? Only the parents, it raises their profile. “Didn’t they do well to get their daughter married off to a doctor (or an airforce captain or a government offical)?”

To return to my 18 year old friend… If this proposed marriage goes ahead she will have no choice in anything. She will have to give up her education and move to a foreign country, totally alien to her, with a western type culture for the most part and a way of life that she’s never seen. Admittedly some things she will enjoy. An infrastructure that actually works. There again, due to the sexual segregation and the moral upbringing in India, she’ll be like a fish out of water and pregnant within very few months and probably again within the year following the birth of her first child. There is a good chance of more children too. Effectively she’ll never experience being young and having a bit of freedom of youth. When eventually she stops popping out babies and finishes minding them she’ll be in her mid to late thirties with no qualifications except having babies and halfway through a wasted life with no chance of a career of any standing because her education was curtailed for the sake of image. This, apparently, is a successful marriage!

I have met two girls in this position. The one described above has asked her parents to at least allow her to qualify and get her degree and after that she’s prepared to marry whomever they choose. Acquiescence. The second is a 27 year old who has been living with a girl friend in Delhi for a few years. Just recently on a visit home she was told that she’d be getting married to an old childhood friend. I saw her just after this bombshell had been dropped. She was obviously preoccupied, worried, pensive and not that happy. That said, a few months later the situation has been accepted and she seems more at peace. She too will have to leave her country, family and friends for the sake of a “good marriage”? It’s a Indian cultural decision you see?

And the Indian youth blindly follow this social illusion and allow their parents to dictate their lives because it’s a leftover from thousands of years of Indian cultural decisions and oppression that once apon a time had a reason. Had my parents tried that I’d have been the other side of the world with no forwarding address in very short order.

Friendship and cultural divisions

Indian cultural decisions
Forget it
Another Indian cultural division that I’ve witnessed is… while it is perfectly ok for an Indian woman to know and be (a little) friendly with a man from a different race, but there is no contact. However there is little chance of them having a romance. That would be frowned apon by the village, the colleagues, the friends and relatives. So again, personal individual happiness means nothing to this collective non-empathic Indian culture. It’s all about image and it would be deeply infra dig for the community if the poor woman were to fall in love with her racially different friend. She would be ostracised, abused, suffer petty gossip, be labeled as a bad woman (probably a whore) and maybe lose her job because of her feelings. This is something that, thankfully, western races have nearly abolished, cross racial relationships and marriage are fairly normal now. Naturally the system would tolerate a man falling for a blonde bombshell. It may be frowned apon, for a while, but it would be ok in the end and seen as its own social status. If you are gay – well that’s simply seen as revolting and disgusting and not talked about.

Caste driven discrimination

Then of course there is the caste system that I mentioned in this post. Marrying outside your caste used to be illegal. In many senses it may as well still be. I met a young man of 22 years who had fallen in love with a girl, who admittedly was of the same caste, but he is Tamil. Can’t have that. For some reason Tamil people are ostracised. Maybe it’s their language? Can’t see why though, there are dozens of languages here. So the Indian society has dictated (even though the caste system is illegal under current law) that Ajith can’t marry Swati after all because she’s Brahmin and he’s Vaishya. The Brahmins are the upper priestly caste and the Vaishya are the merchant caste, effectively two social strata lower. The fact that there is a chance that Ajith the Vaishya will possibly enjoy financial success and wealth isn’t important. Have to keep that illegal caste inbreeding going.

Public shows of affection

agains Indian cultural decisionOn my wanderings I have noticed that you practically never see a young mixed sex couple walking through town holding hands. It wouldn’t be right. You do see boys holding hand with boys and girls holding hands with girls, but mixed holding of hands isn’t really seen. Sex of course is quite simply out of the question until your parents have married you off to a stranger or you are a bad girl. (For boys again it sort of ok.) But I have also seen, in a few towns, parks where the young do go to hide and kiss and cuddle. In fact some of these parks would probably get the name “knocking shops” in the UK because of the number of people snuggling, and except there’s no knocking going on. Just a bunch of repressed young Indians trying to have some fun with their boy or girl in opposition to Indian cultural decisions and before the folks marry them off to someone from a “good family”.

Dietary restrictions

Dietary restrictions are mainly religious observances and you are free to adopt whatever you want. Again, in general, it’s how your family brought you up and what your parents want. In the north of India the people lean more toward vegetarianism due to their Hindu way of life. It doesn’t stop them getting drunk as skunks on the local rum though. The strange difference comes in the south of India where the Hindus seem more religious but will eat meat and fish. It tends to be white meat and not red meat but wild boar is highly prized in some areas. It goes without saying that you don’t get beef. The cow is sacred. Effectively you do what the community wants or acquire yourself a label. I know one Hindu that doesn’t eat meat – except when he’s drunk.

The weirdness of the Indian beach

Indian Cultural decisions - sarees on the beach
Indian women in sarees on the beach
On the beach are loads of young lads. By far and away the greater percentage of the beach crowd. They’ll be larking around in the sea, maybe surfing or in a few cases showing off and taking risks with the bathers on their jet-skis in ways that would be illegal in the west under health and safety regulations. Women? Hardly any. And the few that there are will go bathing in their full saris. You do not see Indian women in bikinis or bathing suits – well at least I haven’t seen any. Maybe in Mumbai, a more cosmopolitain city, you may see a few modern, rebellious young Indian woman giving the moral strictures and Indian cultural decisions the big finger, but mainly if she’s in a bikini she’s western.

Bathing in a sari is absurd! Yards of wet fabric just waiting for a wave to pull you under and hold you there. As aquadynamic as a house brick. Positively dangerous. Should the woman get into trouble the poor life guards have to risk their lives with trying to deal with a ton of wet fabric as well as a flailing woman (who is probably trying to push the man away because they shouldn’t be touching her). A recipe for disaster. In Mangaluru I witnessed a woman, knocked over by a wave, struggling to get up and a half dozen of her friends laughing and trying to help her to her feet. The waves weren’t much above two feet tall.

Cultural decisions from a western viewpoint

India is a strange country. Very friendly people that are firmly rooted to past centuries and obsolete restrictions that (maybe) made sense a thousand years ago. The youth, while awakening a bit, sadly still obey mindless Indian cultural regulations based on archaic thinking and dubious parental judgement. A young Indian is taught to respect their parents because their parents gave them birth. Therefore it follows that you do what they say and provide for them in their old age as they provided for you in your childhood. Then you get to impose the same narrow inhibitions on your children so that the repressive Indian cultural restrictions can carry on as it has for millennia. And whatever you do – don’t mix the caste even though it is illegal to differentiate. If you are born gay, emigrate, if you can, run away do anything that will save you the burden of being married to a stranger to whose gender you aren’t even attracted.

Translating websites

Translating websites

I’ve not been translating websites

Google analytics
Google analytics
The more observant of you will have noticed that I haven’t been translating websites or the blog into Spanish recently. I gave up. Google Analytics shows me that no more than 3 people read the Spanish and I really can’t be bothered to spend a few hours translating websites and laying out the pages for the sporadic views I was getting. Most of my views come from here, India, and then the UK. I guess the Indians are reading in english but I figured that if Hindi was included I might get more viewers.

So to that end I decided to see if I could find a way of getting Google to do the translating websites chore. And I found a PlugIn that seems to do the job. It’s called GTranslate and it can be installed on most WordPress setups. I’ve installed it on SuperSnail and here, with a few language options. I’ve been told that the Hindi is good enough to understand. The Spanish isn’t bad – not the way I’d write it because it’s Latin America spanish with usted and ustedes where I’d use and vosotros, but is saves me time and at least those of you that do want to read in other languages have the option.

Down here in Karnataka they speak a number of different languages but the State language is Kannada. Google makes a complete mess of it. Frequently generating the complete opposite of what is being translated. Sorry but that’s down to Google. If Google Translate’s Kannada translation was a car – it would be scrapped. And that’s what I’d suggest Google do as it’s pretty useless and in some cases positively dangerous.

Guaranteeing results?

So far I’m pretty impressed with GTranslate and it may be a way for bloggers and small businesses to increase their page hits. But I’m not guaranteeing results. For example: in Spain it might be a good idea to add Catalan, Galician and Basque too? Naturally most of these languages I can’t speak but I figure that those that are interested will probably be able to get the gist of what’s going on. Besides, many of you are used to Google Translate’s whimsical (and often wrong) translations. But if it generates an extra sale… it’s got to be worth it.

There is a free version – the one that I’m using – but the paid versions add a lot more functionality.

Having got this far some of the more observant of you again are possibly wondering “what has this got to do with India?”. Well, I’m bored and I want something to do. There is no social life where I am, which you will know if you read the last entry. Also, as I said above, I got fed up with spending the time writing for few spanish language viewers.

Multisite Language Switcher

Multisite Language Switcher
Multisite Language Switcher
I had a plugIn installed called Multisite Language Switcher that is really good but you have to set up a WordPress Multisite and manually put the translations into sub-domains for each language. Not too much of a problem – I’ve set up lots of multisites. It works brilliantly except I had to spend the time writing the blog twice. And of course I can’t write in Hindi, Kannada, German etc. This way I can add whatever language I want and leave it to dubious Google for translating websites. It also means that I don’t need to use up disc space doubling up lots of images. (It’s the way WordPress works). There are PlugIns that will allow that but they are more expensive than buying extra hosting space.

There are other PlugIns that can be used and a short list can be found here.

The Indian enigma

Sari fabrics

Indian experiences and observations

India is a strange but lovely place. I refer to it as the Indian enigma. It’s beautiful. The people are very friendly, polite, talkative and above all interested. A lot of them speak very good, if a tad antiquated, english. English you might have heard in the 1940s or 1950s. Clothes are referred to as “dress”, which in its way is correct. He was in formal dress. But in english english we don’t really use it any more. I am instructed to “get my dress for washing”. It makes me smile. I have tried to explain that we would use the word “clothes” now, and that dress is really only used as a verb or as a woman’s article of clothing. She looked nice in her new dress. Or I dress myself in the morning. (We wont go into dressing wounds here, or how one can give someone a dressing down.)

I am staying in a village. A village of predominantly rubber tappers and associated types of agricultural work. I am the odd man out. Many of these people have never seen a “white man” in the flesh before. Some necks crane so much that I fear the individual will fall off his motorbike. I’m a source of interest and gossip. Sometimes I find it a bit intimidating or off-putting but on the whole I don’t mind. I like the way young children stare or hide behind mummy’s sari. When the realise I’m not going to eat them they are usually the friendliest.

Everyone, or nearly everyone, asks “what country?“. What do I tell them? I have an english passport, I feel more Irish than English, I was born in Kenya and I live in Spain. Maybe a bit too much on the first meeting? A lot of the younger people want to know how they can go and work in Europe. I ask them “why would you want to leave a country where a cup of tea is 10 rupees” (about £0.12p or €0.14¢)? When I tell them that in the UK you’d be lucky to get a cuppa for under £1.50 or to them 125+ rupees they are shocked. Naturally I have to then explain that to catch a bus or train is absurdly expensive compared to here. Rents – well forget it if there aren’t a few of you. And yes the wages are higher but the cost of living is exorbitantly high. In general you’re better off here.

Smoking kills – so does life

Gold Flake cigarettes in India
Gold Flake – still in 10s
A pack of 20 ciggies here are about £2.50 where as they are knocking the £10 pound mark in UK and Ireland – in Spain they are a bit cheaper but still twice the price of here. Mostly they are sold here in 10s or singly from the stall. And here you have the other India enigma, the beedis, the funny little Indian cigarettes rolled in a leaf that actually have some flavour (yes I had a lapse – but I’ve stopped again). They come out at between 19/-INR and 25/-INR for 20 – 25 depending on brand. To us that’s less than £0.30p. Up until recently the beedi wasn’t taxed but now the packs appear with the same anti-smoking photos to which we in Europe are well used and tax has been levied.

The India enigma – the beedi

Europe in the 18th century

The culture is so different – again an Indian enigma! It’s probably akin to Europe in the 18th century. Aside from the towns, women do not wear short skirts, they still wear traditional saris and the salwaar kameez. Even in the towns you don’t really see women in shorts or mini-skirts. Yes the younger girls will wear jeans and T-shirts, but nary a leg is seen, and they usually have a “scarf” that is draped across both shoulders and hangs down the front. Why? I think it’s to hide their breasts. The boys mostly wear long trousers, long sleeved shirts and a vest. (I haven’t seen a vest in years.) In the south the men wear lungis, which are sarongs to you and I. Guys in shorts are seen but they are the more “hip” of the crowd. And you don’t go out anywhere without getting dressed up. That buggers me up – hey? 🙂

Girls still wear saris, the salwaar kameez, churidaar and lehenga choli (skirt and blouse), and a few variants with odd (to me) sounding names. Wikipedia has a good entry. Ok, the examples I have picked as the images illustrating these fashions are particularly beautiful and some are wedding apparel, but they are a riot of colours and I’m going to miss this when I return to Europe.

Gagging for a beer

There are no bars. Well that’s not strictly true. In the towns there are but women don’t frequent them (few women smoke either). The women that do go to the bars are probably not the women you want to meet. On second thoughts – maybe they are? In the village where I am staying there is no bar and the closest one is a short drive away. It’s mainly full of men having a beer or rum after work or getting pissed up. Rum is the most popular spirit but you do see Indian whisky or maybe it’s whiskey – who knows? The normal beer is fierce strong at about 8% but I mentioned that in this post. I have been told, but I have no proof, that normal beer is brewed and then ethanol is added to bring it up to sledge hammer strength. They do brew a “light beer” which weighs in at 4·5% or “normal strength” in Europe.

So, what this is leading up to, is that social interaction is effectively nil. There is no “popping down the boozer for a swift half” and getting to meet the locals. Result is that I’m glad I have this blog to write and my uke, or I’d be bored out of my tree or be getting into trouble. I’ve tried 4 Indian beers, the first mentioned here called:

  • White Rhino – nothing special.
  • Hawards 5000 – silly strong.
  • Kingfisher – easy to find. The normal one is 8% and the Premium 4·5%.
  • UB Export – I had the weak one, 4·5%

And don’t even think of trying to chat up a woman. You’ll be run out of town or knifed. Go to a club or disco, that’s your best bet for girls. But you’ll find that it’s mainly boys dancing together from what I’ve seen.

Women’s lib – another Indian enigma

When I’m in the house I’m told off for doing chores that I take for granted in the EU. I’m not supposed to take my plates to the kitchen after a meal. I get scolded if I sweep the floor. I sweep the floor because this part of the world is a bare-foot community in the house and I hate walking on crunchy floors. This is still women’s work. The local village people say I’m a good man. Luckily I have earned a good “reputation” largely because I’m polite and considerate (something with which my daughter would probably violently disagree) and try and greet everyone with the correct “namaste”. And why not? We may be different colours but we bleed, cry and laugh the same.

So where does that leave us? In a beautiful Indian enigma, with its 21st century trappings of LEDs, mobile phones and the selfie, crap internet, auto-rickshaws or the tuk-tuk, and daily power cuts 😐 but firmly planted in a different century culturally and socially. This is the Indian enigma. Yes the towns are more cosmopolitan but, for example, I can not sit in the same row of seats on the bus as my hostess – just not done. I can sit with her daughter and son though. Tongues wag just the same as tongues wag in any country – especially about the white man.

Isn’t gossip a wonderful world wide phenomenon?

The caste system in India

Caste system causing human separation

India's caste system
India’s caste system
Since being in India I have noticed that the caste system, ostensibly no longer in existence and illegal, is very much still evident. Superiority, inferiority and difference are assumed simply because of an accident of birth (or reincarnation). Hindus are split into four basic caste groups.

  • the Brahmins (the priestly class),
  • the Kshatriyas (the ruling, administrative and warrior class),
  • the Vaishyas (the class of artisans, tradesmen, farmers and merchants),
  • the Shudras (manual workers).
  • Dalits is also a fifth division, often known as the “untouchables”.

Discrimination and employment opportunities can be biased because of this system.

Most religions about which I have read tell one that we are all equal in the eyes of God. However this is not practised.

Jiddu Krishnamurti – thinker and philosopher

Jiddu Krishnamurti
Jiddu Krishnamurti
The Indian thinker and philosopher, Jiddu Krishnamurti, points out that when one says “I am a Christian” or “I am a Hindu” or “I am British or German or Colombian” one is committing a violence of sorts. One is immediately drawing a distinction between oneself and other parties. Often with a sense of superiority, but certainly a degree of separation from the fellow man is implied. The caste system fosters these differences. It is a 3000 year old system of discrimination that the British rule encouraged.

This is the full quote:

When you call yourself an Indian or a Muslim or a Christian or a European or anything else, you are being violent. Do you see why it is violent? Because you are separating yourself from the rest of mankind. When you separate yourself by belief, by nationality, by tradition, it breeds violence.

I have met people that say “I am Jaat” or “I am Rajput” implying that they are a different type of human from the rest of us. In reality they are normal human beings stuck in outmoded ways of thinking that restrict their lives and possible spiritual advancement.

Krishnamurti also makes the point:
Tradition becomes our security, and when the mind is secure it is in decay.

Strict adherence to tradition means there is no further room for improvement or diversification. Stagnation is the result.

These observations of Jiddu Krishnamurti strike me as fundamental elements of truth.

The constant assertion of belief is an indication of fear. Is another observation of his.

The world will never know peace while these meaningless subdivisions exist. And it is my opinion that these meaningless subdivisions are fostered and encouraged in order to make control and rule for the élite easier.

Divide and conquer.

FRRO Revisited – visa violation

Bureau of Immigration FRRO

Indian visa violation

On my return from Sri Lanka I was held for a fair while at Bengaluru airport for an apparent visa violation.

One year multiple entry visa
Apparently it works out that on a tourist visa you have to keep moving, you aren’t allowed to spend too much time in one area? I have no idea what constitutes “too much time“. The fact that I have been visiting and staying with friends (who have been showing me around the country) means that apparently I should have applied for a visitors visa? Personally I don’t really understand the difference. A short phrase in english springs to mind and would run something like this:

The tourist entered the country and visited various points and areas of historic interest during his travel. During his tour he also went to visit some friends.

The “tourist” and “visit” are contained in the same phrase and imply that the tourist is visiting the country and friends. Finer points of english language and bureaucratic law I guess.

So I was passing through the immigration channel into the airport when I was stopped and a superior was called over. They asked my purpose in India and I went through the same rigmarole as:

  • I had on my visa application,
  • on leaving the country for Sri Lanka,
  • on exiting Sri Lanka for India.

I explained I was touring around, visiting friends, wanting to do some research into my grandmother’s birthplace and having some dental work done.

Plain-clothed official bureaucracy

FRRO secret policemanA further official was called. What I call a “secret policeman”. Plain clothed and completely nondescript, I guess he was either police, army or customs. He took my passport and disappeared for a while. I was beginning to look like I’d miss my connection flight to Mangaluru.

He returned and informed me of my visa violation. His check had been able to turn up that I had stayed at HOG Hostel in Delhi a few times. Apparently that isn’t allowed? Too many days in the same place or revisiting the same place. I explained that I’d been having some dental implants. Apparently that isn’t allowed either on the visa that I am on? I should have applied for a medical visa for that. Maybe two or three visas were needed? One for dental work, one for visiting friends, one for touring? And possibly a fourth for the research into my Grandmother’s birth – who knows?

He mentioned nothing about the various hostels and hotels in Rajasthan so maybe the check wasn’t that thorough or maybe he zeroed in on the Delhi hostel because it suited his point. He also said that he could see that I hadn’t been to Kolkata yet. I explained that my intention had been to work down the western coast and then up the eastern and yes, therefore, I hadn’t been to Kolkata yet.

We talked and I explained to him that I had been in touch with the embassy in London and explained my India visit to them and this was the visa I had been granted. I had to assume that the embassy had granted me the visa I needed. I also pointed out that as there are so many differing types of visa for India it is difficult to know exactly, without having some sort of expertise in Indian visa and immigration law, for which visa to apply.

He usefully informed me that there are 24 different types of visa for India. 24 different visas!

The official pointed out that my visa stipulates that I had to register with the FRRO within 14 days of arrival. I pointed out that I had indeed gone to the FRRO in Delhi within the timeframe mentioned on the visa and was told to leave as it didn’t apply to me as I would be exiting the country within the 180 days stipulated on the visa and that this Sri Lankan trip was made to comply with that condition. I mentioned the FRRO in this post.

I was asked when I would be leaving the country? As yet I have no date but I assured him that I’d be gone before the expiry of the visa.

Visa violation and the black mark

So I’m being reported and apparently a black mark will be put against my name. I’ve no idea what this actually means but I guess it means that that India will not want me to start a business with Indian nationals and that that they don’t want me spending my hard earned money in their country? Personally I fail to see the logic – I travel in India I spend money on food and hotels. I spend more money on train and air tickets. Maybe I buy some clothes? Can anybody reading this explain the difference between investing money on the above items and buying some dental implants? My brain tells me that the Indian economy has benefited from considerably more pounds sterling and euros spent on my teeth than drinking a few cups of chai and staying in hostels.

So far this experience of Indian bureaucracy leads me to suggest that anyone wanting any medical or dental work done may find it easier and less frustrating to go to a country with fewer restrictions and with a more transparent visa system. India faces intense regional competition in the medical tourism sector, particularly from Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand, Taiwan and Mexico. Maybe these countries should be investigated as alternatives for your medical or dental treatment? These headlines appeared online too: Kerala tourism lost revenue of Rs 1,000 crore since Nov 8: Tourism minister (See this.) For those that don’t understand the term CRORE. A crore denotes ten million in the Indian numbering system (see wiki)

I then also think about the two foreign yoga teachers that I have met here. Is their stay at the yoga schools for training also illegal under the terms of the tourist visa? And what about WorkAway? Is that legal – on a tourist visa?

Visa violation – In conclusion

India visa online - visa violation
India visa online
I have to say that the Indian government website that deals with the visa applications is one of the most confusing and incomprehensible visa application sites I have ever visited. It may be that someone should rethink the wording and layout of this site? I am fairly certain that inside the 24 differing visa categories there is plenty of opportunity and leeway for the authorities to come up with some visa violation should they so desire. However this seems counterproductive as we are told that India is an “up and coming nation“. One would think that making things easier would benefit their economy more? I think this is pretty much exemplified by Elon Musk and his Tesla Company choosing China over India in which to set up his hi-tech manufacturing plant. See [ 1 ] and [ 2 ].

Negombo in Sri Lanka’s Western Province.

negombo header

Negombo by the sea

Negombo is the last stop on my Sri Lanka tour. I chose it because it’s near the beach and closer to the airport than Colombo. My flight is at 04:00, therefore the usual 2 hours before for an international flight. I didn’t fancy a 35km taxi ride at 02:00.

Negombo town is on the Negombo lagoon which provides safe waters for the fishing fleets. Wikipedia has some interesting info on the Muslim, Portuguese and Dutch that have, over the centuries, held sway here. Negombo used to be the centre for a flourishing cinnamon trade.

Negombo red snapperThe area where I am is slightly north of the actual town of Negombo, about 2·3km. The main strip here is typical seaside town. Lots of restaurants and souvenir shops. The prices are what you’d expect in such a place. The two meals I have had in restaurants were the same price as they’d have been in Spain and a bit cheaper than the UK. The sea food is lovely. I’ve eaten red snapper and shark. The souvenir shops sell everything from fridge magnets to large sculptures of Sri Lankan elephants. I’ve no idea how people would get some of these items in their suit cases? Maybe they have them shipped home.

Negombo hostels are almost on the beach

I’m currently staying at the New Negombo Beach Hostel. will tell you “book now only a few places left“. I think this is a marketing ploy of theirs. I was the only one here when I arrived and I’m in a dormitory with 7 beds and I’m the only person in there. A few people have come and gone, but effectively the place is empty. The hostel is about 3 minutes walk from the beach.

beach litter Sri Lanka
Please keep the beach free from litter
The beach is a nice sandy yellow but poorly maintained. There is a superficial residue of the ubiquitous plastic bottles, bags, cigarette butts and packets and general rubbish that the unthinking and uncaring just toss on the ground. It’s hard to exclude it from photos. There are also the usual beach sellers and pimps but it’s surprisingly empty of people.

Shrimping boats in Negombo
Shrimping boats
The boats pulled up onto the beach I have been told were once shrimping boats (you can see them in the photos) but now cater to the holidaymaker. They want anywhere between 2000/-Lk and 4000/-Lk per person for a spin (say £12 – £24). I was on the beach for a few hours and only saw one boat go out. I wonder if they’d have more trade if they dropped their prices a tad?

The weather has been overcast and incredibly humid with temperatures of about 33°C, but the sea is refreshing. Being a seaside resort the place is swarming with tourists from all over but I’ve no idea what they do because as mentioned, the beach is pretty deserted.

Negombo town
Negombo town
In all honesty there is little to do here except eat and go to the beach. I took a bus into town (17/-Lk) to have a look around. Aside from the usual shops that you’d expect to find the place is fairly ordinary until you get down to the water’s edge where the canal meets the lagoon. Here you can see all the colourful fishing craft and fishermen fixing nets and preparing for the next outing.

More begging… and anger

I met a young Buddhist yoga teacher (28-32 years old). He claimed to be half Sri Lankan and half Nepalese. He’s apparently back here because he has hepatitis A and is seeking treatment. He offered me Kashmiri hashish, was friendly enough and chatted for about 15 minutes. I was simply waiting for the inevitable request for money. It came. When I declined he showed his anger and simply walked off. It seems that the Sri Lankan beggars think we caucasians have a duty to give them money. It made me wonder why he didn’t sell the hashish to raise the money he needed. It also struck me as odd that if he had the money to buy hash then presumably he has the money to pay for his blood tests. There are more beggars here in Sri Lanka than I’ve seen in India and they are super-pushy.

So now here I am at the hostel on the last day writing this up. I’ll push off for some food in a minute and then start packing for the return trip.

Sri Lanka has been interesting but, to me, not that enjoyable and I for one can’t wait to get back to India where the people seem more interested in YOU rather than the content of your wallet.

The Sri Lanka Report

Sri Lanka report

Time to leave Sri Lanka

My time is nearly up in Sri Lanka, and I might say “thank god”.

Negombo beach - Sri Lanka
Negombo beach – Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka is undoubtedly an incredibly beautiful country and the people are extremely friendly. But… its rampant tourism is spoiling it – in my opinion.

The place is expensive! In some instances as expensive as Europe. It is monetised to the hilt. Anything listed in the tourist guides will cost you a pretty penny. I have spent more in 3 weeks here than I spend in two months in India. Pretty much everything will cost you. A trip to a national park can get as high as €25. Sri Lankan street food can be twice the price of Indian street food, and in my opinion, not nearly as nice. I have to admit that I actually broke my own rules and went to Burger King just to have something different from dal curry and chicken fried rice.

The fruit market in Galle tried to sell me mangos at prices that exceeded the supermarket prices in Spain. Red bananas were a mortgage. Now I’m perfectly certain that the locals don’t pay these absurd prices, they couldn’t afford to with their salaries. So I can deduce that there is very much an “us and them” pricing system policy.

Tuktuk drivers and street sellers

The Sri Lanka tuktuk drivers will try and do you every time. I have been told that 100/-LK per kilometre is about right but one tried it on for 1,200/-Lk for 2·2km. Tonight the tuktuk driver actually robbed me! I had agreed a 300/-Lk fare for 2·2km. We physically shook hands on it. I arrived at the hostel (The New Negombo Beach Hostel) and gave him a 500/-Lk note and the bastard drove off without giving me my change. That is pure THEFT. The tuktuk drivers seem to have no conception of the phrase “no thank you, I’m going for a walk“.

You can go nowhere here without being hassled by someone for something. I’ve seen more beggars here than in India. They also have a habit of getting on the train and begging. Captive audience. It might be a blind man or a mother and child. Oft times they will get on the train and bang tambourines and sing awful songs while passing down the carriage. It’s almost worth paying them to shut up.

Train travel in Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka train travel
Sri Lanka train travel
The Sri Lanka rail system is… interesting, and, if possible, even slower than that of India. They have 1st, 2nd and 3rd class, but not on all trains. The norm is 2nd and 3rd. If you are lucky you can reserve a 1st or 2nd class seat, but more often than not it’s first come first served. If you want to sit then it’s advisable to get to the station about an hour ahead of the journey. Ask the official selling the ticket which platform (because it’s nearly impossible to find out by other means) and at which end of the platform your carriages are going to be. This only really applies if you are boarding the train at the terminus, otherwise by the time the train reaches your station it will be jam packed.

On the arrival of the train break out your rugby or martial art skills, forget the manners your parents taught you, and elbow, push and shove your way in. There is no room for niceties. If you have the opportunity, throw your bags through an open 2nd or 3rd class window onto a vacant seat to “reserve it”. The chances are though that you’ll be standing for 3 – 8 hours. Admittedly the prices are silly cheap but a 4 hour journey of 100km standing is unpleasant to say the least. Just pray you don’t need a bathroom. Trying to find train times online is difficult. The best sites I have found are these: and The Man in Seat 61… there may be others.

Relaxing on a beach in Sri Lanka

beach litter Sri Lanka
Please keep the beach free from litter
Going to the beach is not that pleasant. Looking for some peace and quiet, a bit of relaxation time, you will be approached by every beach seller. They will start with “hello” and “what country” and then will try their hardest to sell you stuff. Some tat, some quite nice. But they won’t take no for an answer. They persist until you almost have to be rude to them to get them to go. They will try to sell you anything from coconut bracelets, paintings, massages, beer, sex, weed and hashish. And they don’t stop! Last night a man tried to sell me hashish at 3 times the price that it would be in Spain. I asked him “why would I want to buy your expensive hashish when I am going home in 2 days to a country where it is decriminalised and one third of the price?” He got seriously annoyed and told me I was wasting his time? These guys, the drug and sex sellers are nothing more than pimps.

You can expect to be hassled about every 15-20 minutes on the beach and you can expect to waste about 5-10 minutes with each vendor. And all you want to do is lie in peace, soak up some rays and read your book. I’ve found speaking to them in Spanish and pretending I don’t understand english can help but often they don’t care and carry on bugging you.

Walking along the main street in the evening is a constant barrage of “want a tuktuk?”, “want to drink some beer?”, “want to eat…?”. Like I can’t make up my mind if I’d like a beer and a meal? For those that read this and know Fuengirola in southern Spain, it’s like a trip down fish alley, but worse. Last night I was asked if I wanted to drink beer? I answered (untruthfully) that I don’t drink alcohol. So he asked me if I wanted to drink water? I couldn’t believe the stupidity of the question, like I couldn’t walk into the shop and buy a bottle of water (without paying his commission).

I started this post with “Sri Lanka is undoubtedly an incredibly beautiful country and the people are extremely friendly” and that’s true. But I have found it so tiring trying to be polite to people whose only mission in life it seems it to incessantly and continuously try to relieve you of your money in whatever way they can. “No thank you” does little. The main difference I have found between Sri Lanka and India is that the Indian people are interested in you and the Sri Lankan is interested in your wallet.

I will be in no rush to revisit Sri Lanka. Sorry Sri Lanka.

Nuwara Eliya – tea growing area in Sri Lanka

Train to Nuwara Eliya – the most scenic train ride…

The train ride from Kandy to Ella is supposed to be one of the most beautiful train rides in the world. Most of the online articles say break the journey at Nuwara Eliya before continuing to Ella. The online articles also say try and stand in an open doorway so that you can take photos. As you go to Nuwara Eliya from Kandy the spectacular side is on the right. There are some lovely views on the left too but you spend most of the time hugging the mountain side. Luckily a Sri Lankan man called me across to the left side to see some beautiful waterfalls.

The train from Kandy to Nuwara Eliya was chocker-block full of people. Half locals and half tourists. Barely a chance to see anything for four hours. If it can be, the trains in Sri Lanka are even slower than their Indian counterparts. The general attitude seems to be – keep selling tickets until you can’t squeeze any more people in.

Again the online articles say travel 2nd or 3rd class. The 1st class air-conditioned carriages have glass windows that produce a lot of reflections making nice photos nasty with secondary image reflections. Getting a 1st class ticket is all but impossible unless you book months in advance. 2nd class reservations are the same. So you can be pretty sure that you’ll be standing most of the time unless you are lucky enough to collar the door and sit with your feet on the running board. Apparently there is a “scam” where all the tour guides reserve the seats for the clients that are prepared to pay well over the odds.

One of the first things to know is that the train doesn’t go to Nuwara Eliya, it stops at Nanu Oya. It will cost you 600/- LK to get into the town of Nuwara Eliya (2018 price). Yes the tuktuk driver will try and scam you. My advice is talk to people on the train and share a ride. Get dropped in the centre of town or Victoria Park. The first driver will pile on the cost if he has to make two or three different drops. Find a second tuktuk to your destination.

Nuwara Eliya – and Sri Lanka’s tea.

Nuwara Elyia is nestled into a plain around Lake Gregory with many of the houses on the hillsides around the lake. It’s a pretty town dedicated to tea production for the most part. My first day there I walked around Lake Gregory and climbed up through one of PEDRO’S tea plantations to the top of Single Tree Hill. I did, according to google, 16·2km that day.

There is quite a lot to do in Nuwara Eliya but you’ll pay through the nose for it. I wanted to go to Horton Plains and Adam’s Peak. The first has a spectacular 1.200m drop called World’s End, the second is supposed to be great for the sunrise. I was alerted to Adam’s Peak when someone said that you have to leave at 02:00 to get a good spot. Since then I have talked to people that never made it to the peak for the swarms of tourists. Both are national parks. Both charge about 25€. So by the time you’ve done four things in the area you are 100€ down. This is the same business model as Costa Rica. Pretty soon these two countries will be only for the rich tourist.

The second part of the journey is to Ella. The hostel in which I was staying was full of people that were either going to Ella or had just come back. Most said that it was a quiet town, really expensive, with not much to do except some hiking trails. I decided to give it a miss. Partly because I had no wish to be a sardine again, partly because being in town with the same mob from the hostel didn’t do it for me.

There are hostels and hostels

The hostel that I chose in Nuwara Eliya was called the Hi Lanka. It’s in a beautiful spot with some lovely views and only about 1km from town, so easily walkable. I’d booked through who told me the two nights would be about 1600/-LK. I arrived and was charged over double. $24 to be exact. I don’t work in dollars, it’s american currency. I’d have preferred the price in € or £. The hostel was shabby. My dorm had no WiFi connectivity, that was only available in the main room or the terrace. Guests arrived with bookings only to find no space. Other guests were moved beds to make space for others and three were delivered to another hostel. That said the breakfasts were big and good. From a hostel point of view, it was one of the worst I have stayed in, only a touch better than Bunk Planet mentioned here and to my mind priced like a cheap hotel not a shared dormitory hostel.

Having decided to miss out Ella, I decided to go back to Colombo and lie by the beach. I’d picked up an infection on the plane that had been sitting on my chest and making me cough and I had a streaming nose. I figured that a bit of sea, wind and lazy time would probably be a better option than standing interminably on trains getting increasingly irritated and feeling rough. So I headed back to Mrs Merle Senanayake’s excellent establishment The Colombo Lavinia Beach Hostel. By far and away the best hostel I’ve stayed in on this entire trip. If the hostel had been in India I’d have asked if I could rent a room on a semi-permanent basis!

I left Hi Lanka fairly early. I wanted to try and get a seat for the 8 hour ride back to Colombo. Luckily there were some free seats in the 1st class carriage. I booked one with relief. Luckily the car wasn’t that full so it enabled me to pop up and down and hang out of the front doors of the carriage to video the spectacular scenery that I’d missed on the way up. I still have to edit it to include on this page.

Colombo Lavinia Beach Hostel
Colombo Lavinia Beach Hostel
With great relief I arrived back at Colombo Lavinia Beach to find that the Spanish man, Valentín, I’d been talking to 4 days earlier was still there. He told me he’d been having a great time where he was and felt no need to move on. He stayed a month in total and finally dragged himself off to see Kandy and the scenic train route the day before I left for Galle in the south, where I am currently writing this.
mt lavinia beach hostel
Colombo Lavinia Beach Hostel

Kandy, central Sri Lanka

Kandy, Sri Lanka

Arriving in Kandy

Kandy railwayI arrived in Kandy on Sunday the 14th January. It’s as pretty as a picture. It was also the capital when Sri Lanka was under a monarchy. Located in the Kandy plateau, it’s criss-crossed with tropical plantations, many of which are tea. If you want more info on the town go here) The train getting there wasn’t so pretty, it was over subscribed. We, an Aussie and a Somalian and I stood or sat on the floor in the open carriage doorway for I suppose 4 plus hours taking occasional photos. Again, and unlike British Rail, the ticket worked out at 150/- LK. In £ sterling, about 1. Euro slightly more. You don’t seem to mind a bit of discomfort when you haven’t shelled out a mortgage on British Rail prices, but not being able to get a decent view was annoying.

I had pre-booked “Bunk Planet” in Kandy. It looked good on Hostel World but in actual fact was the most disappointing hostel that I’ve stayed in to date. Situated in the basement of a block, the smell was a bit damp and occasionally the toilets took over. The idea was nice though, capsule bunk beds with plenty of space and charging points, fan and “mood” light. Unfortunately there was no common room area nor kitchen with the result that I didn’t get to interact with anyone really. Until the last day.

A stroll around Kandy lake

Water Monitor Lizard - Kandy lake
Water Monitor Lizard – Kandy lake
The lake seemed to be the thing to go see with half a day left. I walked round the lake slowly looking at the enormous trees and houses nestled into the hills. Half way round I quite literally nearly stumbled over a huge water Monitor Lizard. I reckon it was about 1·30m in length and its body the size of a springer spaniel’s body. That excitement over I continued the circuit of the lake during which noticed a huge white Buddha on the hill behind the city that I hadn’t spotted before.
Tomorrow’s walk.

Fruit bats - Kandy lake - Sri Lanka
Fruit bats – Kandy lake – Sri Lanka
As I was just about to complete the circuit of the lake an old man stopped me. He showed me a poisonous water snake in a clump of reeds that he assured me was most venomous. He also showed me all the waterbirds hiding from it. The snake was hard to see and therefore hard to try and identify to include here, and the name the man gave it was obviously local and fairly unpronounceable. We walked on a little and the old fellow pointed out some huge fruit bats, the size of pigeons. That’s when he told me about the performance of Sri Lankan dance, fire-walking and drumming that was going on that night. I think was related to some festival to do with the Temple of the Tooth. It seemed like a good idea, so I went. It was a shame that the light didn’t allow me to get good photos, slow shutter speeds, and I’d left the video behind in the hostel, damn it! It was entertaining, not brilliant, but fun and I do like dancing girls 🙂

Now some food. The street food in Sri Lanka doesn’t compete with Indian street food. And of the Indian food, I prefer the southern food with its coconut and rice. Here, mostly they are vegetable rotis, fish or chicken buns or things loaded with sugar. I did find one guy making lovely chicken fried rice though. But there really is a limit to how much chicken fried rice you can eat. Here it’s the same as southern India, eat with your hands of lose face and ask for a spoon.

The Big White Buddha of Kandy

By the next day I’d googled the huge white Buddha that I’d seen whilst walking round the lake. It wasn’t far. Back-pack and camera. With the aid of google maps I found the place easily. This Buddha is called Bahiravokanda Vihara Buddha Statue and there is a legend of the Buddha of Gnome Mountain which you can read about here. Kandy is built on hill sides around the lake. The Buddha sits atop one of the nearest hills looking over Kandy. I took my photos and moved on. Walking into Kandy from the Buddha you enter from the opposite side from the lake. I walked some of the streets in the direction of the lake. Eventually arriving at the Temple of the Tooth land that borders the side of the lake.

Grounds of the Temple of the Tooth Relic - Kandy
Grounds of the Temple of the Tooth Relic
I strolled in the grounds of the Temple of the Tooth taking photos. Its grounds are lovely and calming. And I haven’t seen as many caucasians in one place since leaving England. You really get the idea that Sri Lanka’s main industry is tourism. It reminds me of some time I spent in Costa Rica where the tourist industry is monetised to the hilt.

Colombo, Sri Lanka

Colombo temple

Early flight to Colombo

Well I flew from Mangaluru (Mangalore) via Bengaluru (Bangalore) to Colombo, Sri Lanka, at 10:55. Madan, Vishak and Abhijith accompanied me to wave me off. The funny thing about Indian airports is that once you enter the building, you can’t check your bags and then go out for a while. There are one or two food stalls, literally one or two. This meant that the boys and I hung out for a while, had a coffee and samosa, and then I entered the restricted area.

Airline food  - on the way to Colombo
Airline food – no thanks to RyanAir
The flight was just over an hour. I was fed! A veg sandwich, coffee and a chocolate bar. Bengaluru airport transit area is much more international. There were the usual type of shop and restaurant. I had an hour and forty minutes to kill before the Colombo flight. Maybe the Mediterranean Restaurant Bar could sell me some long waited for, raw green vegetables? I opted for grilled mushrooms with mozzarella on a toasted panini. It was huge, came with endive, lettuce, tomato and onion, all raw, and some pretty decent green olives. Sigh! And at a good price, for an airport. Better.

Colombo Lavinia Beach Hostel
Colombo Lavinia Beach Hostel
I finished at the restaurant and saw that they were calling my flight. So I boarded the last leg to Colombo, due to arrive at 03:15. Yawn! I got fed again! The hostel I’d booked had a deal with a taxi car service, so I was duly delivered to the Colombo Lavinia Beach Hostel at just before 05:00. By 5:30 I was in bed and asleep. I woke at about 09:30, not bad 4 hours. I went exploring the local area, buying fruit and water, trying the food, that kind of stuff. Then I took it a little easy, sat in the lovely garden of the hostel chatting with a vet called Rosie, and grabbed an early night because I wanted to get into Colombo centre the next day. I slept like a log! Nearly 10 hours.

Colombo Lavinia Beach Hostel
Colombo Lavinia Beach Hostel
Colombo Lavinia Beach Hostel is probably the nicest hostel I have stayed in. It has lovely rooms and gardens. It’s 80m from the beach in a quiet area. Ok the trains pass during the day but at night there is hardly a sound. Colombo is 10/- from Dehiwala station, just up the road. The owner, Mrs. Merle Senanayake is a friendly person and helpful.

Mount Lavinia train

Stupa in Colombo
Stupa in Lotus Rd. Colombo
I caught the train at Dehiwala, just one stop up from Mount Lavinia, and closer for me. It cost 10 Sri Lankan rupees. That works out at 5p, yes, £0.05. (In €0.0529, at the time of writing.) Five stops I think it was. I got off at Secretariat Halt. Fort Railway it the central station and the one after Secretariat Halt. Almost the first thing I saw was a huge white stupa.

Google’s Street View of the stupa

Gangaramaya Temple, Colombo

So I took some photos. And headed off down Lotus Road in the direction of the sea when I met Siri. A junior finance officer in government. He told me that today (Friday 12th Jan 2018) was a Buddhist holy day and a day off and that he was on his way to the main temple. Would I care to accompany him? He take pleasure in showing me around. So that’s how I got to the Gangaramaya Temple. Wiki link here and link here. I guess I don’t really need to say much more about the temple complex, the photos are enough. Needless to say it was awe inspiring. The mix of styles, many gifted to the temple by Thailand, Myanmar, China, and Japan demonstrating the significance of this complex.

The Independence Memorial

Sri Lanka’s Independence Day is celebrated on 4th of February commemorating the end of British rule on that day in 1948. India’s independence day is almost exactly 6 months earlier on August 15, 1947. This memorial building erected to the end of British rule is a loose copy of the Audience Hall (Magul Maduwa) located in Kandy in the temple complex called The Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic. Kandy was the capital under the monarchy. A statue to the Hon. D.S Senanakaya, the first Prime minister of Sri Lanka, was erected in front of this monument. Most visitors miss the museum located in the basement of the Independence Memorial Hall, I certainly did. I don’t remember seeing any signs.

Finally, as I was getting tired from walking all day, I got to the Floating Market with the Lotus Tower in all its glory in the background. The light was going and the photos didn’t turn out that well. When I go back to fly back to India I’ll try and get some better ones.

Colombo sardines

The train ride home was an experience! One of those “see how many people can fit in a carriage” situations. A goodly number were riding the running boards. It was only by pure luck that I managed to get out at Dehiwala just as the heavens opened and down came the torrential rain. It was actually a relief after the oppressive humidity all day.

Lazy Saturday on the beach

Mount Lavinia Beach, Colombo
Mount Lavinia Beach, Colombo
So far I had hardly inspected the beach. I took myself off by road to Mount Lavinia walking, maybe 3km, and then headed for the beach to work my way back to the hostel. A beach is a beach and those that know me will know that I’m not that enamoured with lying on beaches getting sand everywhere and burning. That said the beach here is nice with coconut trees and vegetation giving the tropical feel. I made my way up the beach in the direction of Colombo. The water felt nice. Once back to the part of the beach near the hostel I got out the towel and book and indulged in a few rays. It felt like an age since I’d had the sun on me. No such luck in Uttar Pradesh. It was certainly hot, I’d say the mid thirties. Ok now for the test – the sea. It was lovely and refreshing.

So Saturday is the last day and I need to go back to the hostel and charge phones, power-banks, computers and all. Travelling these days is all cables and chargers. I got back to Colombo Lavinia Beach Hostel, showered and shaved and began preparing for an early start to Kandy on Sunday.