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: slr.malindaprasad.com 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 booking.com 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 AboutColombo.lk 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.


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?