Negombo is the last stop on my Sri Lanka tour. I chose it because it’s near the beach and closer to the airport than Colombo. My flight is at 04:00, therefore the usual 2 hours before for an international flight. I didn’t fancy a 35km taxi ride at 02:00.
Negombo town is on the Negombo lagoon which provides safe waters for the fishing fleets. Wikipedia has some interesting info on the Muslim, Portuguese and Dutch that have, over the centuries, held sway here. Negombo used to be the centre for a flourishing cinnamon trade.
The area where I am is slightly north of the actual town of Negombo, about 2·3km. The main strip here is typical seaside town. Lots of restaurants and souvenir shops. The prices are what you’d expect in such a place. The two meals I have had in restaurants were the same price as they’d have been in Spain and a bit cheaper than the UK. The sea food is lovely. I’ve eaten red snapper and shark. The souvenir shops sell everything from fridge magnets to large sculptures of Sri Lankan elephants. I’ve no idea how people would get some of these items in their suit cases? Maybe they have them shipped home.
Negombo hostels are almost on the beach
I’m currently staying at the New Negombo Beach Hostel. Booking.com will tell you “book now only a few places left“. I think this is a marketing ploy of theirs. I was the only one here when I arrived and I’m in a dormitory with 7 beds and I’m the only person in there. A few people have come and gone, but effectively the place is empty. The hostel is about 3 minutes walk from the beach.
The beach is a nice sandy yellow but poorly maintained. There is a superficial residue of the ubiquitous plastic bottles, bags, cigarette butts and packets and general rubbish that the unthinking and uncaring just toss on the ground. It’s hard to exclude it from photos. There are also the usual beach sellers and pimps but it’s surprisingly empty of people.
The boats pulled up onto the beach I have been told were once shrimping boats (you can see them in the photos) but now cater to the holidaymaker. They want anywhere between 2000/-Lk and 4000/-Lk per person for a spin (say £12 – £24). I was on the beach for a few hours and only saw one boat go out. I wonder if they’d have more trade if they dropped their prices a tad?
The weather has been overcast and incredibly humid with temperatures of about 33°C, but the sea is refreshing. Being a seaside resort the place is swarming with tourists from all over but I’ve no idea what they do because as mentioned, the beach is pretty deserted.
In all honesty there is little to do here except eat and go to the beach. I took a bus into town (17/-Lk) to have a look around. Aside from the usual shops that you’d expect to find the place is fairly ordinary until you get down to the water’s edge where the canal meets the lagoon. Here you can see all the colourful fishing craft and fishermen fixing nets and preparing for the next outing.
More begging… and anger
I met a young Buddhist yoga teacher (28-32 years old). He claimed to be half Sri Lankan and half Nepalese. He’s apparently back here because he has hepatitis A and is seeking treatment. He offered me Kashmiri hashish, was friendly enough and chatted for about 15 minutes. I was simply waiting for the inevitable request for money. It came. When I declined he showed his anger and simply walked off. It seems that the Sri Lankan beggars think we caucasians have a duty to give them money. It made me wonder why he didn’t sell the hashish to raise the money he needed. It also struck me as odd that if he had the money to buy hash then presumably he has the money to pay for his blood tests. There are more beggars here in Sri Lanka than I’ve seen in India and they are super-pushy.
My time is nearly up in Sri Lanka, and I might say “thank god”.
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
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
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.
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 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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
The last two days it has been me and Bhagat Ji and snakes here on the farm. Mickey has gone to see his sister for a festival of The Sister. He was most apologetic about having to go leaving me alone, and even invited me to go with him to meet his mum and sister and all the kids. After a little discussion we decided that it was probably best if I stayed behind. His mum doesn’t speak english and I’d have felt like a prune. So I’m here alone and I don’t mind 🙂 It has given me a chance to get to know Bhagat Ji a little.
I was made to promise that I wouldn’t stray from the road outside the house. Mickey feels responsible for my safety. Not that there is much to fear except snakes. This is the monsoon season and when the rain comes the snakes vacate their holes or drown. There is one rule here on the farm, all doors are to be kept shut so that snakes don’t enter the house. Apparently there are cobras in this area.
More invisible snakes
I have to say that I haven’t seen any snakes yet which is good in a way but I’d love to get some video. I’m sure that the opportunity will present itself. So I have spent the time writing these blog posts on my tablet in the absence of my Mac, taking photos and eating lovely food. This morning it was bhindi and chapatis for breakfast. Bhindi is also known as okra or ladies fingers. They are one of my favourite vegetables so I was happy.
My computer has been repaired and will accompany Mickey when he returns from south west Delhi, near the Indira Ghandi airport. Then I’ll have to process these photos and get this text on the blog site. That will take a while because I have the spanish translations to do too.
Just in front of the gates of Satya Dhaam Farm is an unused open piece of land. The passing buffalo and cow drawn carts often stop for a bite to eat. The patch is alive with butterflies in the morning. I’ve been out trying to get some photos but they are so quick and erratic in their flight. The best I have been able to get is some video. My little video camera has a WiFi connection so that I can set up the camera and control it from my tablet at a distance. The most common butterfly is a white one, which close up have mother of pearl colours. There are also some little bright yellow ones and some large orange ones. The orange butterflies seem to be the most timid. There are also some tiny grey/brown and lilac ones that are hard to see, they are the size of a thumbnail. I’m guessing there is the odd snake too, sunning itself, but I work on the principle that they are more scared of me than I am of them. So I make a bit of noise and hope they slither off in the opposite direction.
Some of the flora of this area
I’m also going to take the opportunity to write about some of the plants here. Firstly, of course, is the sugar cane. As you can see from the photo they are tied up with leaves. This is to stop them falling over which would make the harvesting harder. The cane is grown from cuttings from the first year’s growth, sugar cane has a two year cycle. Two “knuckles” are taken and planted. The cutting strikes roots and the next crop is on its way. A calculation is made as to how many plants will be needed for next year’s crop and the appropriate amount of cane is put aside. The first year’s cane is harvested in late December – March and second years growth is October – December. (For those that want more information, here is a link.) A vehicle with weighing scales parks outside the gates here during the harvest season, where the buffalo and cows breakfast. The local farmers bring their cane for weighing and payment. The cane is then shipped off to the sugar mill up in Simbhaoli for processing.
This plant is called, in english, curry leaves. It has nothing to do with curry per se other than it is used as a seasoning. It grows wild and has a slightly bitter, peppery taste. A lot of Indian cooking will use this plant as a flavouring.
These plants are dal, or lentils to us Europeans. There really isn’t need to write more.
Unfortunately this Jamun tree has come to the end of it’s season so that there aren’t many fruit left to see. Jamun means “purple” in hindi. In english the tree is sometimes called Java plum, Malabar plum or Portuguese plum. There are plenty of fruit on the ground 🙁 It is a small cherry like fruit that has a slightly bitter/sweet taste. I am told that it is good for diabetes. Here is an Indian site that deals with Jamun farming. The Jamun tree has been introduced to many countries such as Brazil and Hawaii. In the latter it has become invasive.
The neem tree I mentioned in this post, but for those that want more details you can find it here. In general neem seems to be a useful medicinal plant but I have included here a link with possible side effects. If you are in doubt it’s probably best to consult your doctor or an alternative healer. They say where there is neem there are no mosquitoes. I once thought of trying to bring neem to Spain, I figured it could have been a commercial proposition in the right areas. But now, having met the tree in its natural environment I think Spain would be too dry.
So, as you can see, really the only thing that I can find here that could be classed as dangerous are snakes 😀 and I still haven’t seen one. That said, we’ve just had a mighty monsoon downpour so maybe some will pop round for a photo call?
Today Virender and I met up to go the Red Fort and Chandi Chowk. But before that to get my Mac fixed. It didn’t happen. We also tried to sort out the problem with my SIM card. That didn’t happen either. I haven’t mentioned before, but Virender is/was a hardware technician, so, with whom better to go?
Firstly we had breakfast together in Nehru Place. It was superb. He ordered two rice dishes one called Shahi Paneer the other Matar Paneer. It seems that paneer is a cheese and the other part is the way it’s prepared. I liked both but I’d go for the shahi paneer the next time as it had a sweetness to it which I’m guessing is because of the cinnamon. One plate and a pepsi 105/-INR (£1.25 or €1,40) and as usual it was huge. I’m only eating a large breakfast and a medium sized snack these days. And mangos 🙂
We then went to the Authorised Mac Repair which I wrote about in this post. And on to an Airtel dealership to try and resolve the SIM issue. I’ve ended up buying a new phone so at least I’m back in contact with whatsapp.
Chandi Chowk – Old Delhi
All the chores taken care of we headed for Chandi Chowk. Chowk means square or place. Chandi Chowk reminds me of some of the street scenes from the film Bladerunner, with Harrison Ford. It’s madness. It is a heaving mass of humanity and quite overwhelming at first. It also reminded me of a Pink Floyd concert in 1974 at Knebworth Park where there were about 250,000 people. The noise is horrendous, it never stops. And you want to see the electricity supply! Chandi Chowk is actually in an area of Old Delhi where the traders have their shops and emporia. The streets a predominantly divided into types of goods. That’s to say one street will sell plumbing goods and another shoes and so on. The variety is endless. Cameras, spices, bangles, surgical instruments, wedding clothes etc. etc. You name it, and there’s and area for it.
This is a place where you keep a firm grasp on your wallet, backpack and anything else. Not that I had any problems but the possibilities are there and I had been warned by at least two people that opportunistic crime, pick-pocketing and the like are quite common. It is very easy to get lost and I’m really glad I came with someone that spoke hindi. The area is predominantly a Muslim area and we passed a number of mosques. It is also the home to the haveli of Mizra Ghalib (1797-1869) one of the most famous Persian and Urdu poets of all time. A Haveli is a traditional townhouse or mansion in India, usually one with historical and architectural significance. Outside the haveli was a Muslim man sitting on his motor bike with two goats. In the middle of a city of 27 million people?
The traders’ market in Chandi Chowk
We took a spin down the dried fruit and spice market road. The scents that assail your nostrils are quite incredible. Plenty of people were sneezing from the pepper and other spice dust in the air, including Virender. The centre of the street is lined with barrows with sack upon sack of different spices and the traders have their little shops on each side of the road. We didn’t stop there too long as there is an almost unpleasant feeling in the upper nose and back of the throat. I had a desire to see the street of the bangle sellers. I had read about it in a guide book and I’ve always liked the Indian bangles and beads. After a few enquiries we found it. It’s almost beyond imagination that a whole area is dedicated to selling bangles but the colours are wonderful to see. The old man in the photo was kind enough to pose for a photo by his stall. He thought it was very amusing as you can see from the wry grin on his face.
Chandi Chowk slide show
If you want to see these pics a bit bigger, press the show thumbnails link and go through the photos manually. Alternatively, for the much bigger, go to my space in FLICKR
A rickshaw ride later, that was more stationary than moving, we reached the Red Fort. On the way we passed a couple of temples, one Jain temple called Shri Digambar Jain Lal Mandir which houses a bird hospital and one Sikh temple called Gurudwara Sisganj Sahib which marks the site where the ninth Sikh Guru was beheaded on the orders of the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb on 11 November 1675 for refusing to convert to Islam. They are spectacular in their colours and architecture.
Now I have seen the Red Fort in pictures and documentaries but nothing compares to the “red” in real life. The place is immense and I only had a chance to get a quick glimpse as a) it was getting late, b) the light was going and the photo opportunities were disappearing and c) the noise and bustle of this area of Delhi were quite overwhelming me and I was getting tired and longing for a bit of quiet. I mentioned in the post about India Gate that there has been a new president installed. His first address to the public will be from this fort some time in August, so the whole place was being prepared for this event. A bit of a shame as the police and military presence was huge, crash barriers installed and there was a lot of building, repair and electrical work going on. I will revisit it when I return to Delhi to take in the parts I didn’t get to see.
My visa tells me that I have to register at the FRRO or a police station within 14 days of arrival. So yesterday I went with Imran (who I now find out prefers to be called Ali – He is Imran Ali) to the FRRO. Again I can’t express how helpful Ali has been.
He arrived in a tuk-tuk to collect me and off we headed to the FRRO – Foreigner Regional Registration Offices. We arrived and the place was heaving with foreigners. Not really surprising. There were a lot a Afghan people there that Ali tells me are flooding India. I saw few caucasians, one or two.
Well, a bit like Spain, the bureaucracy is horrendous. We queued up and eventually got seen only to find that I needed a “C” form. These are available from the hotel. I didn’t know. Ali rang the hotel and they whatsapped the form over. You need a proof of address. So if I had been staying with Ali, he’d have had to present his documentation. Had I been living here I’d have needed rental agreements and that kind of thing.
Naturally this didn’t happen in 5 minutes. So we went and got a fruit drink, lemon and pineapple, and we kept coming and going until it got to my turn. Eventually I was processed and given an appointment for 10:20 the next day.
Ali decided to see if he could pull strings. I mentioned in this post that he works helping backpackers etc. Long story short, we found that as I have to leave the country at least once during my 1 year visit none of this applied to me and I hadn’t needed to make this trip after all.
So this little post is to try and explain that to any potential long-term visa holders. Because while it is stamped on my visa that I am required to go to the FRRO what they don’t make clear is that the visit is necessary ONLY were I going to stay for the year WITHOUT exiting the country.
So we went into Connaught Circus and grabbed some lunch in a nice little restaurant that provided so much food we couldn’t eat it all. I met Ali’s cousin Yamin who is one day younger than my daughter and a very nice guy too. He also is a CouchSurfer and his parents have houseboats up in Jammu and Kashmir. I’m going to try and take a visit up there. I looked so beautiful from his photos and it reminded me of Switzerland.
I was lazy again this morning and ordered in the breakfast. I hadn’t slept too well, got to sleep after 02:30 and woke at nine-ish. To try and clear the cobwebs I figured I’d walk in one of the many Delhi parks opposite. On the map it looks like a big park with a road going through or over it. It isn’t, it’s two parks. The nearest is well kept and the second is running amok. You can see it on the map opposite the hotel marker.
The trees are full of Indian palm squirrels. They aren’t too worried about people and you can get quite close to them as you can see from the photo. Their bodies are about 18cm long and their tails are the same. They are sacred to Lord Rama. You can read the wikipedia entry I’ve linked but in a nutshell the light coloured markings on its back are from where Lord Rama stroked him.
The park workers around this part of Delhi seem to predominantly be older women in saris. They sit on the ground weeding and sweeping. The men seem to do the cutting of bushes and moving water lines around.
Delhi is humid in the monsoon season
It’s fiercely humid, we’re in the monsoon season here. One of the most humid countries I’ve experienced. The only others that match it were Brazil and Malaysia. And I thought it was bad in Fuengirola. I’m sweating like mad just breathing and I’m having to change twice a day to get rid of the soaked clothing. At least the clothes dry quickly.
Having walked around the two parks for about an hour I knew I needed to get some water in me to compensate for the sweat loss. I could feel myself getting dehydrated. My tongue was stuck to the roof of my mouth. So I wandered off to the market square that I mentioned in the Imran post. On the way I passed a small shrine set up to Ganesh. The poor God’s trunk was broken off and an urge came on me to get some clay and fix it. I thought he was rather beautiful in his decrepitude.
The guy at the water stall is beginning to know me. I bought 3 litres, a one and a two, and did the one litre bottle without stopping. I really needed it. As I had another dental appointment booked for 15:00 I came back to the hotel, showered and processed these photos. I had met a tuk-tuk driver with good english on the way to the market and he’d promised to collect me at 14:15 to take me up to the clinic. I wanted to get some grub in me before I went in.
Rajy turned up about 15 minutes early and waited outside for me. I’m probably going to take a spin with him on Sunday to see some of the sights of Delhi, but that’s to be confirmed. He dropped me at the HOT POT, the street vendor I ate at one of the first days. I chose the egg curry. Nearly defeated me again and blew my head off at the same time. Having about 35 minutes to wait I bought a mango drink (600ml again, laced with sugar as I subsequently found out) and sat in the park in the shade of the trees cooling down and drinking it. Have to admit it did taste good and knocked the spots of a coke.
Today’s lunch – 70¢
One of the many Delhi parks
The dentist laughs
The dentist laughed. The turmeric (curcuma) in the curry had stained the temporary crowns bright yellow. She’s replaced them. It feels weird to have teeth again.
So tomorrow is the big day – bone grafts and the implant pins. Apparently, from the scans and imaging I’ve had done, they can see that my bone has deteriorated and that there is very little space to put the implants without damaging the sinuses. Hence the bone grafts to build up the height. I don’t know what they are going to use, I’m assuming it’s a generic bone material.
I’ve been told to have a big lunch because I suppose I won’t be able to eat for a while. Ice cream I think is on the menu for tomorrow.
I booked the FabHotel online. There are a number of FabHotels, This is FabHotel Regalia. The pictures of the rooms looked good and the prices were good. I paid slightly less than £200 for 13 nights. The reviews in Booking.com were good and the fact they have good WiFi sold it to me. And the WiFi is good!
As I mentioned in an earlier post, it took over an hour to get here from the airport. This is due to a new bridge being built that causes massive traffic jams.
FabHotel Regalia reception is on the second floor of the building. The ground floor and basement are a gym. Booking in proved easy and I was shown to my room which is right next to the reception which worried me a little. I had specified that I’d like a quiet room if possible because, those that know me, I don’t sleep well.
My room is facing the main road 🙂 I already mentioned the obligatory horn honking. That said the room was cool and fresh with the ceiling fan going as well as the aircon set to 27º. The “bellboy” set up the TV for me. I turned it off as soon as he’d gone. I haven’t really watched TV since 1990 and I saw no reason to start now. Besides TV technology is beyond me these days and the number of channels overwhelms me a bit and I have this blog to write and my ukulele. What more do I need?
The room definitely looks better in the pictures 🙂 but at this price it’s pretty darn good. The bathroom is a little more disappointing. I thought I’d go through the bath when I stepped in for a shower and there are that many taps to control… (I’m not sure what,) that there should be an instructional manual. The place could be cleaner. Cobwebs on the aircon make it look shoddier than it is. The light switches need a good clean from all the other fingers that have been on them and labelling wouldn’t go amiss. There are 5 above the bed for the lighting combination and the ceiling fan and one rheostat that presumably was for the fan but seems to do nothing. Maybe it’s a dimmer for the main light, I’ll play later. The bed is enormous, clean and hard, as I like it.
The bathroom has 4 switches inside and a razor/plug point. Also not sure what the switches are for yet but the main light switch for the bathroom is on the outside, similar to many Spanish houses. All these switches could do with labels.
Interesting to note that although India uses a round-pin plug similar to that which the UK used years ago, the continental plugs that we have in Spain fit. So don’t panic if you forgot an adaptor. My phone charger and power supply for the laptop work. I did take the precaution of bringing a surge protector from Belkin as the Indian power supply is renowned to be erratic.
Breakfast in the room will cost you a minimum of 50₹; or INR. I had 1 Aloo Parantha (whole wheat bread stuffed with spiced potato mixture), 1 Gobhi Parantha (the same but with cauliflower) and a cup of chai (tea) that is flavoured with something like Earl Grey, is sweet and comes with the milk in it. It was super-good. This lot cost me 170 INR (about £2) and they probably got it for a quarter of the price from a street vendor. But it was convenient today.
I went in search of breakfast navigating the traffic with no mishap, walking in the road as the indigenous people do, down to the marketplace where Imran took me last night. It seems that it is a night time or afternoon place as most of the shops were shut when I got there at about 10:00. I bought my breakfast from a little street vendor in roadside food stall set up under the trees and sat by the roadside eating it.
I don’t know what it was but it was very spicy and cost me about 10p. It seemed to be a slice of bread filled with vegetables and covered with a thick batter of egg. It was very good and pretty filling too. I then went in search of a drink. I was tempted by the coconut milk served in it’s green fruit case but I opted for a huge mango juice that was considerably more expensive at about 40p. But it was delicious. I’m sure that as I get used to this country the prices will come down.
I had my first dental appointment at 14:00. Thinking they’d have a quick squint in my mouth and I’d be out of there I hadn’t bothered to eat. I was seen fairly promptly and it took nearly two hours. My dentist is Dr Priyank Sethi a friendly, approachable, clearly spoken man that took the trouble to explain a lot of things to do with the various forms of dentistry and implant options that were open to me. I liked him immediately.
Street vendor for lunch
I was sent out with one of their staff to have a 180º scan made of my mouth (it cost £5) and told to go get lunch and come back at 16:00 for the evaluation results. So I shot across the road from their practise and had an egg curry from another street vendor. His operation was on a much more professional level 😉 That cost me about 34p and it very nearly defeated me it was so big. Talk about spicy, aside from the relative humidity, up in the probable 90% area, I burst out in a formidable sweat. Needing to get some fluids in me I searched out another street vendor that sold coke for a bit of a sugar/caffeine jolt. The bottles here are 600ml, not half a litre, and was charged the princely sum of 40p. I shall be going back today when they start my dental treatment.
Because I’d eaten so late I decided to give the evening meal a miss and get on with this blog only to arrive back at the hotel to find that my brand spanking new MacBook Pro had developed a problem. It appears that I’ll need a new motherboard, graphics card or possibly screen. It’s going to be fun finding an accredited Apple dealer over here to get the thing repaired. I have none of the purchase documentation with me, one doesn’t expect a £2000 computer to go on the blink within 2 months. I don’t know if I’ll lose my programs for processing photos or video. I hope not as they are on the hard drive. But I guess there is a chance that this may be one of the last entries in this possibly short lived blog.