Bike ride into the Western Ghats

Western Ghats - Talakaveri

Uncomfortable in the Western Ghats

Baja Pulsar 220 F in the western ghats
Baja Pulsar 220 F
Madan has had me sitting on the back of Baja Pulsar F 220cc motorbike for my journeys into the Western Ghats mountains of this part of India. The bike is incredibly uncomfortable and the scenery is incredibly beautiful. So it makes a sore bum worth while. (I linked the specs of the bike for those of you that like that kind of thing… Yes Tim, you.)

Areca nuts
Areca nuts with a cat. Looks uncomfortable.
The geography of this area and the Western Ghats still confuses me, largely to do with the place names that bear no resemblance to European place names. I’ve been to the joining of the three rivers that form the holy river of the south, the Kaveri, at Talakaveri (tala = head) and I’ve seen coffee plantations. There are coconut palms everywhere and also areca nut palms. The latter look a little like mini-coconuts both growing and when taken apart, they are fibrous inside just like a coconut. They are a little smaller than a tennis ball. Areca is used as a kind of tobacco substitute here. It’s chewed with a bit of tobacco wrapped up in a leaf that has a light coating of lime on it. As yet I haven’t tried it, and I’m not sure that I will. We’ll see.

The Western Ghats of Karnataka and Kerala

The bike ride took us in and out of Karnataka and Kerala as the border is very close to this part of Karnataka State. The Western Ghats run the length of the western side of India, a bit like the Andes in South America. In places we were in deep jungle and I’m still hoping for some wildlife. Tigers don’t exist here but there are cheetahs and elephants. To date I’ve only seen birds which move too quickly to get pictures. I’d need to sit still for a couple of hours. In other areas the scenery is open and rolling with mountains in the distance. The rivers are fairly dry at the moment but Madan tells me that they are huge and fast running in the monsoon season.

Hanuman in the Western Ghats
Hanuman paying devotion to Shiva at Hanumagiri
We climbed Ranipuram in Kerala and saw the vistas of the Western Ghats from on high. Some of those photos I put on Facebook. I went to Hanumagiri which is a huge temple dedicated to Hanuman, the monkey god that helped Rama rescue his wife Sita from Ravana the king of Sri Lanka who was claimed to be a Rakshasa, a demon. There is a lot of information on the legends of Hanuman on the Wikipedia site. Here in India Hanuman is jokingly referred to as Superman’s big brother. Read the stories and find out why. The little squirrel I mentioned in this post is tied in with this legend. It helped Shiva to construct the land bridge to Sri Lanka to rescue Sita.

western ghats roadhouse
Madan waiting for his food
We stopped for lunch, it cost about 2 quid for the both of us. I had a pilau I don’t remember what the name of Madan’s dish but it was served on a banana leaf. Here in the south they eat with their fingers. They claim it tastes better that way. I don’t see how and I haven’t noticed. Nevertheless I’ve had to learn the technique as some of the eateries don’t supply cutlery. I’ve explained that in Europe one of the first things you teach children is NOT to eat with their fingers. Personally I find it pretty gross to have food all over my right hand, but that’s the culture here. Granted all the establishments have a hand basin or some sort of wash facility.


Journey south to Perlampady, Karnataka

Perlampady, Karnataka header

On my way to Perlampady, Karnataka

Areca nut tree - perlampady, kernataka
Areca nut tree
Well I’m down in Perlampady, Karnataka in the south west of India. Above Kerala and below Mumbai (Bombay). I’m staying with Madan’s family. His mum, sister and brother. This is jungle territory. Coconuts, rubber trees, bananas and areca nut trees.

perlampady, karnataka
Karnataka State
Madan and I flew out of Delhi to Bengaluru (Bangalore) on IndiGo airlines. The flight left at 17:05 but we had to suffer the 4 hour bus from Simbhaoli to Delhi with my case that’s as big as a coffin but at least my ukulele fits inside. The plane arrived in Bangaluru, the capital of Karnataka half an hour early at 19:20 which meant that we had plenty of time to get the 50km from the airport into the city and find the bus to Perlampady, near Mangaluru.

Bangalore buses

Bangalore bus station is… well let’s just say that I was glad to be with Madan. They don’t speak Hindi here but Kannada, not that I speak either. One thing I noticed almost straight away is that the roads are better maintained, the traffic obeys the rules of the road that I learned. The drivers don’t seem to feel the need to drive with one hand on the horn constantly as they do in Delhi and Uttar Pradesh, and the roads are clean.

The bus station has more of an organised European feel, rather than the pandemonium of Anand Vihar in Delhi. It is also considerably cleaner. I’m guessing that the presence of litter bins and rubbish bins and fines has something to do with it. Either way the people down here don’t just toss their waste onto the ground or out of the car window.

We found a bus. Apparently there are a number that we could have used to get to the area Perlampady, Karnataka. This bus went to Subramanya, a temple town near to Madan’s village. Near is a loose word here in India. We’ll still have 50km to cover when we arrive.

The bus is, what I’d call, a basic cross town bus and we’ve got 350km to do in it. Rigid seats, no room for my coffin case but clean. Yes there are other more salubrious buses, sleepers, semi-sleepers, air conditioned and more. This one cost us about 450/- rupees – for both of us! Ok, I can deal with 350km for less than 3 quid each.

At ten o’clock the bus pulled out on time and we drove through the streets of Bangaluru. Again I noticed how much cleaner the city seemed to be, compared to New Delhi. The air also seemed less polluted but that could be due to the time of day. I’m told that the Bangaluru traffic is horrendous. It wasn’t bad at this time of night on Christmas day. By eleven we’d exited the city and we’d stopped at a roadside eatery for supper.

Now back on the bus the internal lights were switched off and we rumbled off into the west and the night. It’s hard to sleep on seats that are hard and nearly 90° backs. Actually it’s nearly impossible (for me anyway). I drifted in an out of dozing until we reached the Western Ghats. Now the road has to descend the mountain roads. Hairpin bends and, in this area, poorly maintained and some serious water damage from the monsoon rains. Some of the holes would swallow a small economy car. Driving in India is done on the left, like the UK, but here – well just use the bit of the road with fewer holes. Overtake where you can (and where you wouldn’t in Europe).

We eventually arrived in Subramanya at about 05:30. The town/village was already awake. Apparently this is because the temple here is famous and has many visitors and pilgrims. The temple is dedicated to Shiva’s son Shanmukha. I was glad the public toilet had no light 🙂

Now for the last bit. We found the bus to Perlampady, Karnataka and hoisted the coffin aboard. Again, the fare for both of us wouldn’t have got one stop in the UK. The driver made use of the early hour to try out his rally skills. On a few occasions I was literally lifted from the seat when hitting a particularly nasty bump. The twists and turns and hairpin bends made sure that no more sleep was possible.

Madan’s home in Perlampady, Karnataka

perlampady, karnataka
Looking over some of the Perlampady houses
So we arrived in Perlampady. Madan’s younger brother Kiran was waiting at the bus stop to see his older brother and the strange white man of whom the family had heard. We walked about 150 metres to their house where I met Madan’s mum, Selvamani. His nearly eighteen year old sister Chandrika was still in bed. I guess teenagers throughout the world are more or less the same.

Chandrika and Kiran speak english, albeit shyly. Selvamani has a couple of words. Once the shyness started to disappear both Chandrika and Kiran started to speak to me. It’s hard with non native languages even when you do learn them at school. The only way to get better is to speak, speak, speak. I hope my stay here helps young Kiran with his school work. Chandrika is at college in Mangaluru and will return there on the 30th or 31st for the new term. India’s new year falls on the 14th of January so the Christian festivals aren’t that important to Hindus.

Rubber tapping in Perlampady
Rubber tapping
So here I am, in the middle of a south Indian jungle surrounded by banana trees, areca nut palms, coconuts and rubber trees. It seems that a lot of the labour here is involved in rubber tapping the huge acreage of rubber trees.

This is paradise to me. If I get to stay in India I think that it will definitely be in the south of India. The temperature is in the high twenties, low thirties. I’m going to dig my shorts out and then have a wee siesta.


At last a cobra

india-with.me cobra header

Cobra under the house

cobra
Cobra found under the house
Well it happened at last. A cobra. I’ve been waiting for a snake for a while. I would have prefered the cobra living but unfortunately Bhagat Ji killed it before I could get some video or at least a couple of photos while it was alive. Some how it had let itself into the hardstanding to the rear of the house. The floor had be broken up to get to it.

Madan, my friend from the south was most put out at its killing. Bhagat Ji said “inside house – kill, outside house…” accompanied by a swishing movement of his hand to indicate that he’d have let the cobra go.

Snakes, and particularly the cobra are revered here in India. The cobra as the consort of Lord Shiva, the Destroyer. It seems that in the north the snake is worshiped as an icon, usually in the form of a painting or sculpture. Statues and depictions of Shiva most often include a snake. However in the south of India the living snake is also revered and allowed to make its way in life. “Poojas” or prayers are made and the snake is asked for its benediction. You can read a bit more about sacred hindu animals here

Snakes are worshipped for their power and protection. Apparently they bring fertility and are believed to help with protection against illness and disease. For this reason the southern Indians allow the snake its way and life. Snakes are believed to be benevolent if left to themselves and usually move on within a few days. If, on the other hand, the snake is improperly treated, it can become dangerous.

Poor Madan was in a state of disbelief – “He killed a god” he said to me in a semi-hushed voice.

cobra
cobra


A slow November in Ladpur

india with me november satya dhaam

Ladpur in November

Well it’s been a slow month here in Ladpur, Uttar Pradesh. I was expecting to see my daughter to go travelling through the Himalayas for a month. But she couldn’t make it due to dental problems. So Mickey and I got on with more important things, we decided to get on with the hostel.

My friend Madan from Karnataka came up to take part in the project. I first met Madan when Couchsurfing in Faridabad. We got on immediately. He’s the same age as my kids, genius with electronics, micro-processors, C programming and all that kind of thing. Luckily I understand quite a lot of what he’s talking about.

distance ladpur to karnataka
Uttar Pradesh and Karnataka
Karnataka is in the south-west of India, just above Kerala and just below Goa, about 2250km south from here. He doesn’t speak hindi, he speaks Kannada and a couple of other southern languages.

The hostel project had met a few problems, some unforeseen, some unnecessary but seems to be back on track.

Ganges festival

Earlier in the month we had a festival of Ganesha nearby at the river Ganges, or Ganga as it’s called here. People for miles around make a pilgrimage to the holy river to pray for good fortune and work in the coming year. They take a week off from work to do it – which seems a strange logic from my standpoint. The returning folk was a spectacle. Horse, buffalo and ox drawn carts with families and friends aboard. Many of the animals had their winter jackets on as you can see in the photos. You could hear the returning pilgrims passing by all through out the night and see them all day. Tired but happy.

Planting season in Ladpur

It’s a planting season here. Cane is being cut and the now empty fields are being ploughed and resown. The back field under the teak trees at Satya Dhaam has been sown with wheat. The field immediately behind the farmhouse has chickpeas and the big kitchen garden has been laid out with vegetables for us and the visitors to the farm. The field to the side of the farm is having its sugar cane cut now and that field will be sown with peas.

Here in the Ladpur area three crops are cycled through the fields during the course of a year. In some of the adjoining fields mustard is already beginning to flower, a blanket of bright yellow. Over the road from the farm the weighing of sugar cane continues and will continue until March. Daily tractors and ox drawn carts bring mountainous loads of cane to be weighed. Some farmers choose to take their cane directly to the sugar mill and thereby gain a few rupees more because they don’t need to pay for the labour of loading the transport. That said, there are so many vehicles on the road that the traffic comes to a standstill. I makes me wonder if the few rupees gained are worth the time off from the farm duties?

The Ladpur weather has turned cold. The morning temperatures are about 7°C – 8°C (Sorry I don’t do Fahrenheit – it seems an illogical scale to me. You can read why here) but the daytime is a quite pleasant 18° – 25°. It’s got to the time of year that I have to start considering how and where to exit India in order to validate my visa. I was going to drive to Nepal with Mickey to give him some hostel experience, but he’s not available. So I think I’ll fly south with Madan to the jungles of Karnataka and get warm again.

Mickey has some work on the hostel to carry out before my or Madan’s skills are again needed. It seems a shame not to get on with seeing India instead of sitting on a farm in Uttar Pradesh with nothing to do for another couple of months. I’ve been back from Rajasthan two months now and I’ve got a bit side tracked.


Lloyds Bank and security

Lloyds Bank

A WARNING TO LLOYDS BANK ACCOUNT HOLDERS TRAVELLING IN INDIA

Credit and debit cards in India

Well I haven’t written anything recently not because I’m feeling lazy. I’ve actually been busy with the hostel that I wrote about in this post, but because there hasn’t been much happening on that front that would interest anyone too much I’m leaving that for a progress report entry.

However I now have a subject and that subject is banks (may they rot in hell) and banking practices.

Lloyds Bank treatment of clients
Lloyds Bank treatment of clients
I have the misfortune to have a Lloyds account. British people will know who Lloyds are but some of you that read from other countries wont know that Lloyds Bank are one of the biggest high street banks in the UK and fairly well known around the world.

Before leaving for India I went into my branch of Lloyds to make sure that my Lloyds debit card would work while in India and that I’d be able to pay for my dental treatment with the card. The account manager there assured me that the card would work in India however there might be the odd security check. This would take the form of a phone call to make sure it was indeed me making the payment/withdrawal.

No problem I thought.

How wrong I was!

Telephoning Lloyds Bank

So far Lloyds Bank have refused my card on every occasion I have tried to use it in India. Sure it works online but don’t even bother trying to use it in an ATM. Well of course not being able to withdraw my monthly cash is a tremendous pain and total inconvenience. Not to mention that I then have to call Lloyds Customer Service to have the card reinstated.

I have now made five calls to Lloyds Bank to have the card made functional again. This usually follows a lengthy trip to the ATM machine. By lengthy I will say that to travel 80km to Delhi from where I am is a round trip of 11 hours. That’s India – get used to it.

My average call to Lloyds is 33 minutes while they go through their security procedures. So far they have compensated me £150 for calls and inconvenience. Free money. But all this is at the cost of the investors and share holders.

Lloyds have not once bothered to call me to ascertain whether the transaction is genuine. They have called my sister with whom I left some administrative rights on the account. What use is calling someone in England? The answer is: it’s no use at all! It seems that Lloyds are too “cheap” to contact the account holder because he’s out of the country.

Lloyds Bank racism

I have been told by Customer Services that my card keeps getting declined because of fraud prevention. Now we aren’t talking thousands of pounds that I’m trying to withdraw but £100 once a month! I was also fobbed off with the excuse that it could happen in the UK. I admit that this is possible but in my case it is happening every month and every time I use the card in an ATM. I wonder if there is anyone in the UK that has their Lloyds debit card refused on a monthly basis? I think not.

My most recent call to Lloyds Customer Services, on the 1st of November 2017, elicited the response that Lloyds refused my card because I am in India and that there is a lot of fraud in India. Personally I see this as corporate racism. There is a lot of fraud in Spain too but the card doesn’t get stopped there.

I have also been told by Customer Services every time they lift the ban that the lifting lasts a week and then the security defaults back to the original state. So, reading between the lines, this is going to happen every month. This means that my Lloyds account is effectively totally useless.

Foreign travel flags.

Evil bankers
Pic credit: The Financial Brand
My account was flagged as foreign travel in India from day one. They know I am in India. The Lloyds Bank mobile banking app shows that I’m travelling in India. Every time I have called Customer Services they lift the ban and tell me that the card is useable again.

The account manager again informed the IT and Security Department on about the 24th of October that the card was being used in India. One week later it was declined again.

We are encouraged to live in a “cashless society”. Will someone explain to me the use of a debit card if it doesn’t work?

Lloyds Bank security

To me it is patently obvious that the IT and Security Department of Lloyds haven’t got a clue what they are doing. I’m told that this is a “security measure”. I wonder whose security they are talking about? It certainly isn’t mine. Being stranded in New Delhi with no money certainly isn’t secure for me. What would be the situation if I had a medical emergency and I needed cash to resolve it?

I’d die.

Of course the security Lloyds Bank are talking about is their security. Their security to use my funds for their investment purposes and they don’t want to jeopardise that facility with the outside chance that my £100 withdrawal may be fraudulent.

So, what to do? Well I’m now fed up with contacting friendly but powerless people in Lloyds Bank Customer Services. I have withdrawn all the funds in Lloyds Bank and transferred them to another of my bank accounts that at least seem honourable, able to follow instruction and have a security system that works.

I have also draughted a letter to the British Banking Ombudsman. I feel that Lloyds Bank need to be brought to task over this and for the corporate racism they practice. They are morons. India is an up an coming industrial nation and if India has any sense they will blanket ban Lloyds Bank from any business in this country.


Satya Dhaam Farm Hostel

Satya Dhaam Farm Enclosure

Growing a Farm Hostel.

Satya Dhaam Farm logo
Satya Dhaam Farm
Well things are moving on apace. My India adventure is changing slightly as Mickey and I have thrown ourselves into getting the Satya Dhaam hostel going, see here. We’ve been out pricing materials and labour with a view to getting the first dormitory inhabitable. Some things are so cheap compared to the EU but other stuff works out at more or less the same price. I’m going to have to readjust a bit.

Now that my daughter has cancelled her India trip I’m not in as much of a rush to get on the road again and to be honest I’d like to do a little work. Most of you that know me know that I’m happiest when I’m doing something constructive. So I figured that a few weeks of work would be just as good as a few weeks on the road again. And besides, this hostel idea really interests me and it will be the way that I get to reside in this country. Which is, after all, what a part of this voyage of discovery is all about. Of course, if I end up with my residency here then there is no rush to see this lovely country, I can do it at a more leisurely pace.

You may remember Mustafa from a previous post? He’s the architectural student from Ahmedabad in Gujarat that got me to hospital in Udaipur when I took a dive down the stairs. Well a female friend of his, also an architectural student, has contacted me with reference to the work we are going to be doing. I think she’s now written her thesis and was asking us if she could come and stay with us with a view to getting some hands-on experience. Mickey and I are in agreement that to have a qualified architect (albeit newly qualified) on the job with us could be a huge advantage, especially as we want to do some actual building work. I’m hoping Swati will have some good ideas, techniques and technical info.

Satya Dhaam energy

Mangaluru in Karnataka
Some time ago I met Madan from Mangaluru (Mangalore) which is in Karnataka in south India. Karnataka is the state up (or north) from Kerala and before you hit Goa. Madan is very electronics savvy and has some big plans, big projects and big ideas on the go. He’s also keen to come up and visit me and Satya Dhaam. He’s offered his knowledge to try and help us with electrical wiring, alternative technologies and computerisation. This excites both Mickey and I as the farm is rural and has connectivity problems both with electrical supply and internet.

Obviously if this rural hostel is to have any degree of success we need electricity that is reliable. Big generators are available but at the cost of a luxury car and are therefore out of the question at the moment. But if Madan can come up with some cost effective solar solution (and there’s no reason why his experience shouldn’t) then we are cruising. Sun we have.

Tesla Powerwall
In India many houses have battery backups and inverters for their electricity because the supply is erratic. You may remember the photo of the electrical wiring in Chandi Chowk in this post? Well this type of cabling is not uncommon. So it is quite normal here to be running on battery power. This is something I understand a little bit because my brother lives off grid in Wales and has been generating his own electricity for years with sun and wind power. An example of this technology can be seen in Tesla’s Powerwall

My experience so far of Indian people is that they are so much more helpful, amenable, sympathetic, friendly and ready to muck in to help their friends than their European counterparts. I think this is because Europeans have to struggle daily for their work, the general cost of living and way of life that a goodly majority have become introspective and (understandably) self-centred to a certain degree. The Indian people on the other hand are used to helping their neighbours on the farm etc. it’s in their mindset. So the giving of time is much more common here and certainly fits much better with my ethos.

So, all in all, it looks like we have a hostel to build with some knowledgable, fun and friendly input. If Swati comes out to stay it will be great. Madan will turn up at some point for sure, probably sooner rather than later, and he knows perfectly well that when he needs graphics for his projects he only has to ask.

This is going to be hard work but fun. If you want to know more why not visit the website or the Facebook page?


Tour Agents in Delhi

(above: double decker train. Photo credit)

and how to avoid them

When I decided to do my Rajasthan trip I opted to leave it to a company called Delhi Tours & Services to organise. I had an acquaintence that worked there and they claim to help organise backpackers’ tours. The plan was that they would put me in the rail system’s computer database and all I had to do was send a WhatsApp 24 hours before I wanted to move and my electronic ticket would be forwarded on to me by Delhi Tours & Services.

I went in to their office in Delhi and booked my trip with them. They charged me 42,000/-. At the time I thought nothing of it as the journey was long and convoluted. It would have been a bit cheaper had I been able to pay in cash, (no government tax?)

I should have smelled a rat when the operative offered to book my hotels and proceeded to show me rooms priced at 8000/- per night (about 104.692€ or 93.473£). I have to offer the excuse that all the zeros in this currency confuse me in the same way Spain did when it used the peseta. None the less in my experience of travelling and backpacking I know NO ONE bacpacking (only wealthy tourists) that would pay that kind of money per night. The hostels I used and that backpackers use worked out at between 250/- and 450/- per night.

Delhi tours & services train ticket
Jaipur to Jaisalmer train ticket – NO PRICE
One of the first things that I noticed when my tickets were sent to me via WhatsApp is that the price was always excluded. Sure all the details, coach, seat or berth number were there along with my name (spelled wrongly as RICHARDS) but the price was always conspicuously absent.

It wasn’t until I had my fall down the stairs in Udaipur (that I mentioned in this post) that I began to see there was a huge differential between that which I’d paid and the price my travelling companions were paying. I resolved to look in to it and to blog it when I had the time to

  • a) see how much I’d been “over charged”
  • b) to try and help any of you travellers that may be reading this to avoid these exorbitant charges.

They are an easy trap to fall into in India.

Two price breakdowns for the Rajasthan trip

So here below are the breakdowns of more or less what I’d have had to pay had I booked the tickets myself and the price of the most expensive tickets that I could find on the same routes that I took. The left column are the prices I found online for the same journey as I took using the same “class” of travel as I had. The right column is for “first class” travel wherever it was available.

Journey Price I would have paid Most expensive
Delhi to Jaipur 820 1,565
Jaipur to Jaisalmer 1,060 2,385
Jaisalmer to Jodhpur 780 1,300
Jodhpur to Udaipur by bus 565 565
Udaipur to Ajmer 740 1,235
Ajmer to Kota 940 1,570
Kota to Sawai Madhopur 540 1245
Sawai Madhopur to Agra 540 745
Agra to Delhi 905 1,495
Total 6890 12105
6 times the price that I paid. 3.5 times the price I paid.

My recipt for travel from Delhi Tours & Services

delhi tours & services recipt
Recipt from Delhi Tours & Services

I think you’ll agree that there is a huge difference? So the moral of this post is: be aware that these “travel firms” will add on huge commissions. Book your own tickets online here. Or check the routes and prices on www.trainman.in

Agreed Delhi Tours & Services have to make some money but 20% would probably be about the right mark. In my case I was charged a whopping 600% commission. I imagine it was a meal for the office, a nice bonus all round and still money in the kitty at the end of the celebrations and a huge laugh that the white tourist had been well and truly shafted.

Needless to say, I will not be using the services of tour operators again!

One other point to note: in India, due to the huge distances, many of the trains are over night. The stations are poorly signed and it is difficult to know where you are. (I mentioned that in this post). One of my tickets required me to exit the train at 04:35 in a place called Mathura and catch a bus to Agra. I could find no buses to Agra at that time of day. (That doesn’t mean there weren’t any.) So unless you really want to sleep on an Indian station platform… I’d try and get trains that have reasonable arrival times. Again, another good reason to do it yourself.

I have also since been informed that every Indian railway station has a tourists desk. You are better off going to them or using the online app. But do bear in mind that some trains are heavily booked and you really are better off arranging all your travel in advance.


Kota – south east Rajasthan

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I stayed in Udaipur longer than intended due to the fall down the stairs and the swollen eye. But on Friday I set off for Kota on the train. I had been going to go to Ajmer first but decided to cancel that as I still didn’t feel 100% and I wanted to get back to Mickey’s and relax a bit and let my eye heal. I may feel 30 years old but the truth is that I’m 60 and I was getting tired. The same tuk-tuk driver that helped me with the medical issue took me to the station. The train got me in to Kota late, around 23:30. A tuk-tuk ride got me to Hotel Navrang that I’d booked on the Oyo app.

Kota navrang hotel
Navrang Hotel in the distance
Kota isn’t known for its tourism like other cities such as Jaipur, so finding a hostel had proved impossible but Oyo had come to the rescue with a fairly well priced hotel that was clean, comfortable and great value for money. Not far from the station and only about 1km from the town centre and Chatra Vilas Gardens, which are super and very restful.

Kota – day one

Being in a hotel is different from being in a hostel. In a hostel there are fellow travellers to talk to about sights and where to go. Hotels you are on your own. The staff of Navrang had rudimentary english so quizzing them wasn’t much use. I googled a bit and the following day I set off looking for breakfast and in the direction of the Chatra Vilas Gardens. The garden charges 5/- entrance and it is a paltry sum to pay for the maintenance that they do there. The place is a great for getting away from the noise, not that Kota is that noisy compared to other cities. I wandered around the gardens and took some photos of the old buildings and the small train that tours the gardens and then headed for an attraction I’d seen on google, the Seven Wonders.

Kota gardens
Garden inhabitant
The Chatra Gardens has one border on the Kishore Sagar lake, the Seven Wonders is on the opposite side of the lake. In the middle of the water is a palace called Jag Mandir which is closed to the public but well worth a few shots with a long lens. The palace is a beautiful red stone monument built by one of the queens of Kota in the year 1740. Rounding the lake I arrived at the Seven Wonders. It was closed until 14:00 and as it was only just gone 11 I decided that I’d give it a miss. The Seven Wonders is a recreation of seven of the world’s most famous structures, in miniature. They comprise:

  • Rio de Janeiro’s Christ the redeemer
  • Pisa’s Leaning Tower
  • Paris’ Eiffel Tower
  • Agra’s Taj Majal
  • Rome’s Colosseum
  • Egypt’s Great Pyramid
  • New York’s Statue of Liberty

To be honest, I have seen 4 of the 7 in real life so, while they are really well done and well exhibited, it wasn’t a problem for me to give the gardens a miss. It was very hot and there was no shade, so a walk around the outside of the lake and a look in at the structures was good enough for me. They are supposed to be beautiful at night when lit.

Kotah Garh, the City Palace

Kota City Palace Kotah Garh
Kotah Garh from behind
I then walked on to the edge of the roughly rectangular lake and caught a tuk-tuk to Kotah Garh, the City Palace. Kotah Garh is situated on the eastern bank of the Chambal River at the centre of south-eastern Rajasthan. The oldest part of the palace seems to have been built in the 13th century with numerous later additions. The shame is that it is all being left with rudimentary maintenance. There are sections of the palace that I imagine are positively dangerous judging by the outside. The entry on this page explains more of the detail and would bore you if I repeated it here.

I walked around the Kota palace for a couple of hours being shown the Maharaja’s bedroom and other sights, taking pictures that you can see here, and feeling sad that this beautiful place was slowly falling apart. And then I headed for the river Chambal and the back side of the palace to look over the river and see the Kota Super Thermal Power Station and to take some more pics.

By now lunch was calling, so I headed back round to the entrance of the palace where I’d seen some shops and food stalls. I ate my lunch and had a drink and decided to head back to the hotel to rest, I was still feeling a bit wobbly and my fat eye certainly wasn’t helping, it was hot and I needed a sit down. It’s quite tiring trying to navigate with only one eye.

Hospital in Kota

In Udaipur they had told me that my stitches needed to come out in a week’s time. That would make it a Monday or Tuesday. I’d noticed on Google Maps that the hotel in which I was staying was only a few hundred yards from a government hospital. So I decided to stroll in on Sunday morning to see if I could get some information or, indeed, have the stitches removed. I could see in the mirror that the wound was pretty well healed. I walked up to the reception and asked if anyone spoke english. A tall bearded young man said he did. I explained the situation to him and he said “come with me”. Off we went. He took me to a consulting room and barged me to the front of the queue and had a doctor examine me. The doctor wrote something on a paper and I was marched off to another room and made to lie on a none too clean bed. Well this was a government hospital. The stitches were taken out there and then and I was marched off to the dispensary where I was given some medication. That simple!

The young man asked me if I had some time to sit and talk. Well I was a day ahead of the game now so I said yes. His name is Sarvendra and his english is pretty good and, I was told, learned from… Facebook! Maybe I’ll have to revise my opinion of that data mining company. We chatted a while and it was still early, probably not even 09:30. Sarvendra asked if I’d like to meet him after his shift finished at 14:00 so I agreed.

I went back a little before two but Sarvendra didn’t finish until a bit after three. I was then taken on the back of his bike back to his house to meet his parents, uncles, cousins and all. Selfies with the white man all round. I was fed some lovely food too. I then was taken to another relative’s house and a guitar was given me to play. The strings were old, corroded and knackered. The action appalling. The machine heads rusty and really the guitar was all but unplayable. But I managed to coax some sound out of it and by the reaction received, it was probably the first time anyone had made any sort of music on it. I don’t know what India thinks of blues but that’s what they got. So after an afternoon of being the point of interest, I was taken back to my hotel in the late afternoon where a date was made for a road trip the following day after work.

Road trip to the countryside

Kota people
Sarvendra, Tutu and me
The Kota road trip was great. We were accompanied Manoj and Tutu too, friends of Sarvendra’s. We headed out of town to the southwest to see the new Hanging Bridge. As you can see in the photos it is still something of a novelty and the place was crammed with people wandering around in what amounts to motorway. I have to say it was an impressive structure and all the better for being able to see it walking instead of in a car. My positively favourite bit was the guy leading the camel. There aren’t many countries in the world where you get camels as part of the motorway traffic. There are a couple of pictures. The hanging bridge seen, we mounted the bikes and headed south again.

Nahara Singh Mata Temple and lunch

Kota temple
Washing hands
Out in the countryside now we came to a temple in the middle of the jungle. Sarvendra tells me it is called Nahara Singh Mata temple. It’s not as built up as the usual Hindu temples and really comprised of a couple of buildings by the side of a stream. The stream oozed out of rocks in a mini waterfall where we washed our hands and feet before entering the temple building. Many temples here require you to remove your shoes as a mark of respect and in the heat and humidity here it’s often a relief to do so. There were loads of monkeys around and you have to keep your eye on bags, cameras and the like, the monkeys apparently have a tendency to pinch things.

Kota temple and food
Rajasthan food at the temple
Over at the second of the two buildings there was a crowd of men preparing food. Sarvendra told me that these guys look after the temple and the area. He went over to talk to them and a second later I’d been invited to dine on traditional Rajasthan food. The men and boys were delighted to serve me food. They gave me an old fertiliser bag to sit on and dusted of a plate and served me with dal, which was gorgeous and some small balls of flour to be dipped in the dal and also included a large ball which was sweet. The whole lot was delicious. I’ve never been anywhere where the people are so friendly and accommodating to strangers. Naturally I had to pose for the selfies again but in my photos you can see me and the food and the gang that fed me.

The Baroli Temple Complex near Kota

Kota - Baroli temple
Baroli Temple Complex
Next stop on the road trip was the Baroli Temple Complex. These temples are some times known as Badoli Temples. There are eight temples here within a walled area. Built during the Gurjara-Pratihara Empire in the 10th–11th centuries. They are one of the earliest temple complexes in Rajasthan. They are also supposed to be the most perfect examples of their age in this part of India. I’ve linked a wikipedia entry here but one of the facts that is mentioned is that a carved stone image of the god Nataraja (dancing Shiva) was stolen from the Baroli temple complex in 1998. It has been traced to a private collector in London. However, the statue has not been recovered so far. So we can see the greed culture of the west is alive and kicking and a source of embarrassment to all. There is a good PDF here if anyone is interested.

Quote from p20 of the PDF

The carved stone idol of Natraj was smuggled out of India, and a police case registered as far back as 1998. The Rajasthan Police carried out an ‘Operation Black Hole’, and the statue was located in London with a private collector but remains unrecovered to date. Whether efforts after such a long a lapse of time will succeed is a moot question.

My view is that the collector/thief should be named if the police know where this idol is. It can hardly be libel or slander if true. My money goes on someone with incredible wealth and no concern for anyone but his/her self.

The Rana Pratap Sagar Dam

Kota dam
Me at the dam
Final stop on the road trip was the Rana Pratap Sagar Dam, 53.8 metres (177ft) in height built on the Chambal River at Rawatbhata in Rajasthan. Its main function is hydro-electric power generation but it is also associated with irrigation projects too. The power station was officially opened on 9 February 1970 by Indira Gandhi. The dam and power plant are named after the warrior Maharaja Rana Pratap of Rajasthan. The Chambal river (once known as the Charmavati River) runs north-northeast through Madhya Pradesh, then for a time through Rajasthan and forms the boundary between Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh before turning southeast to join the Yamuna River in Uttar Pradesh state.

And that was the end of the trip Kota road trip. The next day I was due to leave for Agra but there was a cockup with the tickets with the agent booking it a day earlier than asked, for Monday night instead of Tuesday. At this point I’d had enough, I’d been on the go for the best part of a month. Tuesday morning I went to the railway station in Kota and booked myself a ticket on the sleeper train back to Mickey’s. I was tired and I wanted a rest. The constant moving and running around had exhausted me and I was ready for a few days peace and quiet and the chance to let my eye heal and write up the Rajasthan trip.

Kota dam


Udaipur – the lake city of Rajasthan

Arriving in Udaipur

When you arrive at Udaipur bus station you will be flooded with tuk-tuk drivers wanting your custom. They will all try and rip you off, of that you can be sure. The only way I and some other travellers I’ve met have found to counter this mad craze to lose their income is to have Ola or Uber applications open which show you approximately how much the fare will be. Then it’s up to the tuk-tuk driver to turn you away or accept, or you get Ola or Uber. I’ve found it easier to walk to a different street, just away from the station, where you’re more likely to encounter someone more amenable. The first guy at the Udaipur bus station wanted 400/-INR for what amounted to a 120/-INR ride.

Udaipur is very much a tourist town. And it’s easy to see why, it’s beautiful. Nestled between hills and situated on two lakes, Pichola and Fateh Sagar, with its island palaces, temples and a lot of hindu architecture, it’s almost like a step back in time. I spent the first morning walking around and taking photos. The first thing I noticed is that Udaipur is quiet. Hardly any horns! The second is that it was the cleanest city I’ve visited to date. You’ll soon find out it’s where they made the James Bond movie “Octopussy (1983)”. A lot of restaurants will screen the film nightly. I didn’t go. I saw more Europeans here than in any other place I’ve been so far, and from all ages and financial brackets.

Bunkyard in Udaipur
Bunkyard in Udaipur
On my return to Bunkyard Hostel that I’d booked online from Jodhpur, I bumped into Mustafa, a young architectural student just writing his final thesis for his degree, whom I’d met briefly the night before. We were on the roof terrace taking in the morning view and chatting when we were joined by Rahul. Bunkyard is another good hostel, and the views over Lake Pichola are superb. It’s multi-level hostel with the restaurant at the top. I picked a dorm without aircon and it was bang on. I’d found out the night before that Mustafa was in my dorm and now I found out that Rahul was too.

The Bunkyard staff are really friendly, if a bit slow in the morning. I have to admit that I found a place where I can have 2 breakfasts and 2 chais for the price of a chai in the hostel and I don’t have to wait, so I go there instead. Well the three of us sat in the early morning sun putting the world to rights. We were sitting under the sunshade four hours later. These two young men suffer the same disillusionment with their world as I suffer with mine. It was a gentle day goofing off, and attempting to put the world to rights. The next couple of days were spent exploring backstreets and walking out of the city into the semi jungle at the west end of the lake.

Scooter ride to the hills around Udaipur

Saturday Mustafa invited me to split the cost of a scooter with him. 400/-INR for the vehicle for the day and a further 200/-INR petrol. Seemed like a good plan. Off we went into the hills to the west of Udaipur. A totally lazy day out looking at temples and lakes.

First we visited a temple on a little pond. I can’t recall the name of the place and neither Mustafa or I have found it on the net. The place was beautiful and serene except for the half finished block-work and cement structure that had been abandoned. It looked to me that once it might have been going to be a hotel or B&B type place, but to my mind it totally spoiled the view and temple, and I was hard put to try and exclude it from photos. We also visited the Lake Badi where I took photos and was tempted to go for a swim. Both Mustafa and I thought that we should have visited the lake in the morning, for the sun’s direction. It was the first lake I’d seen without a scum of plastic wrappers and bottles floating on it. That said, the shoreline was littered with broken beer bottles, crisp packets and the like. It’s such a shame that the young couples and visiting people don’t take their rubbish away with them. Mustafa, Rahul and I had been talking about this inability to take rubbish away and dispose of it in the proper place. It seems that that the younger, educated Indian is aware of this pollution and would like it to change.

Relaxing in the shade of a tree

Udaipur shade tree
In the shade of the tree
We then spent a couple of hours relaxing under a shade tree with an old man and his wife. Mustafa had asked the man we’d spotted if he’d mind if we shared the shade of his tree and in friendly Indian fashion there was no problem. Apparently the language they were talking was a dialect of hindi and Mustafa had to struggle a bit to be understood and understand. They were sweet enough to let me take their photos but the wife nearly made me giggle when she started to say that she didn’t have her fine clothes on. She was lovely the way she was.

The Monsoon Palace – Udaipur

By now the evening was beginning to roll in. Our intention was to get up to the Monsoon Palace, Sajjan Garha, in time to see the sunset. Sajjan Garh Palace is called the sunset point and it seemed the right thing to do. It is named Sajjangarh after Maharana Sajjan Singh, who built it in 1884. Originally intended to be a five floor astronomical centre and built to watch the monsoon clouds, but was converted into a hunting lodge and the monsoon palace on the death of Maharana Sajjan.

The road up to the Monsoon Palace is not very obvious and it is all hairpin bends once you pass the pay-in point. Again Indians get in for 10% of the tourist’s price. It cost me 300/-INR. The climb up offers spectacular views over the hillsides around Udaipur. Once at the top though it became a little disappointing. The building, once glorious, is now running to ruin, which is such a shame. And today, we weren’t going to be seeing any sunset. There was a high bank of cloud in the west, behind which the sun was slowly sinking. The clouds were spectacular though, backlight by the sun. The views were immense. But the light was disappearing fast now so we hopped on the scooter and headed back from a splendid day out in the fresh air.

Accident in Udaipur

Sunday morning Mustafa and I were sitting in one of the communal areas of Bunkyard discussing what to have for breakfast and whether he should head off back to Ahmedabad in Gujarat that day to write his thesis. Breakfast was decided on and his return was postponed for at least 2 hours. I headed off to put the computer away so we could go and eat. And then it happened. I must have had a blood pressure rush or I fainted, I don’t know. All I remember is that the mural at the top of the stairs rose up to meet me and the next thing that I remember is that Mustafa was pushing me bleeding into a tuk-tuk and he and the driver were rushing me to hospital. The ride was a fragmented dream while my thoughts were beginning to clear, albeit very slowly. The next memory was of lying on an operating table having my head and eyelid stitched. 6 stitches in total, two in the eyelid the remainder in my forehead. According to Mustafa, I’d reached the top of the stairs and then just crumpled and fell, head first, down a flight of 15 stairs. He was so worried and it was his prompt actions and help that pulled me through. I owe an enormous debt of gratitude to him and you can be sure that as soon as I get an itinerary that allows me to head west, I’ll be staying with Mustafa for sure.

So to cut a long story short, Mustafa delayed his return to Ahmedabad until later that afternoon while he saw that I was ok. I had concussion and my sense of balance was seriously disturbed. I dozed at about 14:30 and when I awoke my friend had gone. The next few days were spent recovering. I was still seriously dizzy and having an eye that wouldn’t open didn’t help. Monocular vision with no depth of field doesn’t help with head injuries and balance.

The Bunkyard staff were all very sympathetic and helpful, made sure I was ok and generally kept an eye on me. For two days I lurked around the hostel, staggering into the odd table. Mustafa had told me that I’d need to go back down to the hospital on the Tuesday so the tuk-tuk driver that had taken me before agreed to go with me again as he’d been with me most of the time that I was there in the first instance. I was checked over and given some new medication. Mickey from Satya Dhaam was worried and got two young lads known to his wife to check up on me which was nice of him too. All in all I decided to stay for the remainder of the week, allow my eye to recover and for the swelling to go down, and to move on to Kota on Friday, all things being well.

Udaipur is a wonderful city. For anyone visiting India, go there. I’ll be going back for sure, and it is the sort of place in which I could imagine settling down for a while.


Jodhpur – the Blue City

Jodhpur-header

The train to Jodhpur

The train from Jaisalmer to Jodhpur took 5 hours arriving at about 22:45. With the poor sleep that I’ve been getting the motion of the train almost immediately made me sleepy. Luckily i had the company of an American girl and a Dutch boy. When they weren’t there i resorted to loud blues on the iPod to keep me awake.

Indian trains are pretty much on time. Which is good because there is little to announce at which station you’ve arrived. At Jodhpur I had to ask an Indian guy who asked a local. The reply was “next station”. Well the train seemed to be waiting an undue length of time so I put on Google’s location device and found that this station, which ever it was, was only about 1. 5km from Stops Hostel, where I’d booked a couple of nights. I hopped off and got a tuk-tuk.

One thing about tuk-tuk drivers that you can count on is that they will quadruple the fare. They appear determined to put their client in the hands of Uber and Ola. Nevertheless I got a tuk-tuk who did overcharge me a bit and then tried for 50/- more at the hostel. I explained that we’d agreed a price and that’s what he was getting. His comment was “I give you Indian price, ok”. “Indian price would have been half” I said as I left.

Stops Hostel in Jodhpur

Stops Hostel Jodhpur
Stops Hostel Jodhpur
Stops Hostel in Jodhpur is well worth a visit. If you are a good sleeper, which I’m not. In none the hostelworld, booking.com type sites do they mention the Imam. Granted, the description does say “Address: Stops Hostel Jodhpur, Plot No. 1, Fort Road, Paota, Opposite Irani Masjid, Next to Balaji Temple, Near Ship Building, Jodhpur, Rajasthan 342001”. It doesn’t say that Irani Masjid is a mosque. 05:00 the faithful are called to prayers. Not my favourite part. But the hostel is super clean. Hot water is nice to have. On multi levels with a roof terrace and an attached restaurant , Stops was a nice place to meet other travellers. If you can get a back dorm, away from the speakers attached to the mosque, it would be pretty much a perfect hostel. The restaurant was a tad overpriced but the food that I ate, was good.

Jaswant Thada cenotaph – Jodhpur

Jaswant Singh II, founder of Jaipur
Jaswant Singh II, founder of Jodhpur
On the net I couldn’t find that much to do in Jodhpur. There is the Mehrangarh fort of course, and the text online pushed the Clock Tower over which I couldn’t muster much enthusiasm. Location Google showed me the way. The fort was only a couple of kilometers away, I’d walk. It was a very simple walk with lots of views over the city and some photos to be taken. I passed a huge bronze statue of a Maharajah which needed inspection. This turned out to be man credited with founding Jodhpur, Maharaja Jaswant Singhji II. Tripadvisor comments say it’s difficult to get there but I get the impression that’s in a car. Walk, if you can, you’ll see more.

 Cenotaph to Jaswant Singh II, Jaswant Thada
Cenotaph to Jaswant Singh II, Jaswant Thada
By the side of the Maharaja is a cenotaph. A cenotaph to Jaswant Singh II, Jaswant Thada. It costs 30/- to enter and they charge 20/- for a camera. Pretty reasonable. It’s also worth seeing. A beautiful hand carved marble cenotaph and gardens. I spent a long time there in its relative quiet and away from horns. There are good views over the city, a huge wall that straddles the mountain ridge.

Mehrangarh Fort – Jodhpur

Mehrangarh Fort - Jodhpur
Mehrangarh Fort – Jodhpur
On leaving the cenotaph I carried on up the hill to a Y shaped junction and took the left towards the Mehrangarh fort. It’s a colossal fort perched on top of a hill. Almost red in colour, it’s hard to photograph without lens distortion making the lines curved. Again I decided not to go in and spend too long looking around. Maybe I’ll leave that for the next time. This time I just wanted to get photos of Mehrangarh fort and also get down into the blue city to take more.

The Blue City – Jodhpur

The Blue City of Jodhpur
The Blue City of Jodhpur
Along side the south side of the fort is a footpath. If you follow that it takes you down into the blue city. Suddenly there are blue houses, then shops. The blue is intense. Keeping to the more main roads, if you can really call them roads, they deserve a word of their own, you come down off the hill and into a bustling part of town. I found another another stepwell. Children were throwing themselves into the water from silly heights. Then there was a Ganesh festival with paint throwing. Loads of tractor drawn floats with decorated trailers and Ganesh in prominent view. Many equipped with huge sound systems. Then the schools came out and a Muslim funeral parade started and there was chaos. People everywhere. And then I was silly.

Street food Jodhpur
Shouldn’t have drunk the water
I stopped for food. A samoosa and something whose name I’ve yet to find out made with a chilli in batter with spuds. The stall holder was a nice fellow who spoke good english. He explained some of what was going on while I ate. On finishing and without thinking I asked for pani, water, and drank the contents of the metal mug. Wrong move, as I was to find out some time later.

I woke the next day knowing something was wrong! Not a pleasant trip to the bathroom. Followed a while later by the same. Time for anti-diahorrea pills before the Udaipur bus at 13:35. The morning followed in the bathroom – pill game until I left for the bus station some 50/- distant. Warned not to engage a tuk-tuk driver in front of the hostel because they charge more, I mooched off down the road a way. The first tuk-tuk out of the area wanted 1000/-! I just looked at him with my mouth open and said “you’re out of your mind” and walked off. The second guy charged me 50/-.

The bus station in Jodhpur was one of the more organised that I’ve been to. I’d been told that the Volvo buses park off to one side, and there indeed was one. I was quite early so I bought bananas and a fairly dry potato breakfast dish called Poha. Something fairly inert and maybe binding. Still worried, I ate the Poha and a couple of bananas and one more pill. I approached a man possibly my age and asked if he spoke english? He did indeed and extremely well. He wasn’t sure but he’d ask the driver when he passed by. Well it was about 12:15 and I had more than an hour, so we did “world’s problems ” “asian and western differences” a bit of “religion” and along came the bus driver who told us there was no bus to Udaipur at 13:35.

Volvo office immediately. Nice man made a phone call whilst finding me on the computer. Had a chat and said “come”. I went.

In a different part of the bus station administration, my man was in deep discussion with a new man who had also found me on the computer. I showed him my ticket and compared its contents with his monitor’s contents, fired off some hindi and I was instructed to “come” again. Out into the main bus gladiatorial area again. I was marched to stands 3 and 4. “Here or here at 16:30 – computer error. Thanks 🙁 I returned to the company of the elderly man where we philosophised, and fantasised until he had to go. And I waited for the bus to Udaipur and thanked my lucky pills I was still in normal mode.

I was seated next to a young army sergeant, or “holder” as they seem to be called here. Now I’m not sure if that is how you spell it, I suspect not, but that was how it sounded to my ears. His english was pretty good and we chatted for a while until both of us started to nod off. This bus wasn’t going to arrive in Udaipur until 21:30 – 22:00. About two thirds of the way we stopped. Probably near Rajsamand, where I was told by the army that I could get of, go for a pee and have a chai. I got out and stretched my legs. My stomach was going to remain bathroomless on this voyage. The bus honked, we boarded and we set off on the last leg. Macey Gray helped.