A Travellerspoint blog

India: North Goa - Calangute


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Understandably, the 3am flight from Mumbai to Goa made us pretty damn tired. Delirious in fact. The flight itself was typical but there were a few things that made us all very giggly. Firstly, the music playing during boarding was Lauren's all time favourite McArthur's Park (the Richard Harris version), then, she spotted a man with a lobster neck pillow that made her LOL for 20 minutes. Michael was sat next to a hippie lady who chatted to him about breathing and yoga for the flight duration, and Hattie got a phone number from a guy called Salvador who works at KFC (not the deaf one). By the time we got to the baggage reclaim we were all in hysterics.

The transfer to Alor hostel was 45 minutes and in an effort to recoup a little, Justine and I tried in vain to sleep. When we arrived, Lauren made a point of announcing "I AM HUNGRY" to ensure the next part of our Goa tour involved food. We were eager to have our clothes laundered as there are only so many times you can turn knickers inside out, but because our rooms weren't quite ready, we proceeded to exhibit our dirty pantaloons in the hotel's reception. This is when I discovered that my beloved stinky neem oil had exploded (but luckily only soaked a small bit of my bag and no clothes). Because the laundry is charged per item, Lauren had to verbally count up everything for the receptionist to fill out on the form. The itemisation went something like this; "9 knickers, 2 shorts, 3 vest tops, NO WAIT - 10 KNICKERS!" Needless to say the staff and other hotel guests waiting to check in and out were rather bemused.

When all organised and checked into our rooms (which were very big and nice with a double bed and mini kitchen), we popped over to Raj's Happy Place restaurant (no connection to our Raj) - literally opposite the hotel. The staff were the most beautiful young men any of us had ever seen (or maybe the delirium was intensifying) and we chomped down on an amazing and cheap breakfast while enjoying an equally amazing WiFi connection. We're easily pleased us lot.

Feeling a little more human, Raj took us down to Candolim beach a short walk away from our hotel. It was a lovely sandy beach with a number of hut-style café, restaurants and bars, not too many tourists and a nice amount of free sunbeds. I should add at this point that the weather was paradisical; azure blue sky, a balmy 30-odd degrees and a nice sea breeze to keep us from collapsing. At this point we were all feeling like we'd been part of a suppressive cult and were relieved that in Goa (where it's touristy and Westernised and much less conservative), we were fine to get our bits out in all their fluorescent milk bottle glory.

Still too out of it for sunbathing and swimming, Lauren and I went back to our room for a quick little nap and 3 hours later we emerged and decided to pop back over to our new favourite jaunt; Raj's Happy Place. There we enjoyed the free WiFi, the sounds of elderly Brits on holiday and the mocktails.

After some application of some concealer and some insect repellent we were ready for out long awaited night out. We got taxis to Pit Stop café where we had some average snacks and plenty of cocktails during the 2-4-1 Happy Hour. Jack bought a laser shooter thing from a street vendor and managed to shine it in some children's eyes - which pissed off their Dad quite a lot. I got pissed on aforementioned cocktails almost immediately as per and for the next hour or two we danced to remixed chart music from 2 years ago, all sweating profusely and drawing major attention to ourselves. After a while a very camp Indian fellow and his female friend stepped onto the dance-floor and began to grind and twerk with the best of us. He certainly had little to no inhibitions and he definitely put us all to shame.

After tiring of dancing we spilled out onto the Calangute 'strip' that felt just like like Magaluf/Zante/Tenerife/Alberfiera etc. and did a bit of drunk browsing and shopping. We then briefly went into the 'exclusive' Tito Mambo's club that Raj got us all free access for (he knows the owner) but if you know Lauren and I at all, you'll know that the flashier, more try-hard a place is, the more it's just not our thing. We didn't even stay there long enough to get a drink. On the way back to Pit Stop we saw some women on the street begging with their very small, semi-conscious children. Even when I'm drunk I've always got a critical head on me, and seeing them just made the cavernous dichotomy that is our lives hit home. In that moment I felt (rightly or wrongly) sickened by myself and my peers, drunkenly stumbling down the streets, spending our fortunes on cheap alcohol and regretful tattoos when these people were genuinely suffering.

I sobered up pretty quickly after that and Lauren, Justine and I decided to call it a night and get a cab home. Our taxi driver seemed to be an aficionado of crap 90s pop music and as soon as the doors were shut, a dance remix of Aqua's Lollipop (Candyman) blasted out followed by The Vengaboys' Uncle John From Jamaica. Of course we nostalgically danced along in the back - forgetting that we were in India.

Upon our return we decided to have a wander for some late-night snacks and found a nearby Domino's pizza. We shared a vegetarian 10 inch and I also had a weird custard bread pudding thing that fulfilled me on numerous levels. Our route back to the hotel was down an unlit dirt track and still semi-intoxicated, a large cow stepped out of the darkness and scared the bejesus out of us.

The next day was the last on our Uncover India tour. We met at Raj's for breakfast and hotfooted it over to the beach. It became quickly apparent that none of us were remotely prepared for the Arabian sea and after 10 minutes both Hattie and I had lost our sunglasses under a large wave that overwhelmed us. After swallowing a few gallons of seawater and showing all of the Western and Indian holidaymakers our nipples, we sheepishly retired to our sunbeds at the Rovers Return seafront bar and caf (no joke).

Later that evening we all got taxis to Arpora Saturday night market; a massive festival-vibe market with lots of food stalls, live music and Asian/European wares. The place was full of tourists and hippies and there were some lovely things on offer; clothes, jewellery, spices, ornaments, materials, accessories, crystals, home furnishings etc. I bought some fake Ray Ban sunglasses to replace the ones that the sea stole from me, and Lauren bought some bellowing red trousers and vest tops. The live music was average; little more than a British guy doing acoustic covers of mainstream stuff like Ed Sheeran. After an hour we were all shopped-out and a little tired of saying no to the dogged Indian market traders so back to Alor it was for our last evening meal together as a group.

Raj did us proud and picked a restaurant called Café Del Mar with a beautiful decking down onto the beach. There were fireworks going off and the Goan night sky was full of stars. We sat at our outdoor table with feet on the sand and picked from the fresh seafood plate that was presented to us. Not really noticing the prices I picked tiger prawns (which were bloody delicious) and then smiled sweetly at Lauren when the bill came round. We laughed and reminisced about the last 2 weeks; what a trip it'd been.

The following morning we had our last group breakfast where we said thank you and goodbye to our wonderful tour CEO Raj who had really made everything so easy and so unforgettable. We then said our goodbyes to the rest of the group except Mona and for the rest of the day the three of us wandered around the town looking at some old Portuguese catholic churches. We then found a delightful Tibetan restaurant hidden away from rowdy, trashy Calangute beach where we ate momos (dumplings) and Lauren got a delicious cornflakes, fried banana and honey desert.

For our last night in North Goa, Lauren Mona and I once again spent our time and money in Raj's Happy Place, chatting with the lovely boys who loved Mona, drinking sweet iced coffee Baileys cocktails and discussing our future travel plans. It was weird saying goodbye to our last 'groupee' and we weren't quite sure what to expect going back to a twosome. But for now, the excitement of moving onto South Goa distracted us from the farewells and endings. Patnem awaits.

Posted by advensha 05:11 Archived in India Tagged sunsets_and_sunrises beaches planes india goa backpacking backpackers calangute Comments (0)

India: Ahmedabad and Mumbai

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After a lovely, more chilled few days in Udaipur we were off on an early local bus to Ahmedabad. The bus had sleeper cabins or pods (with a bottom and top 'bunk') on one side and standard coach-like seats on the other. RaJ told us that the sleeper cabins were a 'free for all'; if you got on the bus you were entitled to climb into the cabin, regardless of space or who might already be in there. The seats on the other hand were reserved to whomever had booked a ticket. So unfortunately there was no chance of any Indians climbing all over us. Damn.

The bus was very comfortable and pleasant and I managed to fit in some napping and blogging despite the often bumpy roads. One memorable feature of the journey was the bus's unique horn sound. I could not make out if it was a specific tune but it certainly wasn't your average honk. I will try and put a video up for you to enjoy.

As usual we stopped for a quick refreshment break at a little rural truck-stop. This particular stop had what we would define as the most 'rustic' toilets; dark and smelly sheds with squats (and doors that didn't close properly) and an area opposite that can only be described as a women's urinal. Always eager to try out as many weird and wonderful toilets as we can (yes we're odd), Lauren and I did our deeds while the other ladies in our group held everything in.
We managed our usual chai and a even fit in a pakora which had definitely been handled by numerous men and flies but what the hell we were feeling adventurous that day.

After 5 hours we arrived at Ahemedabad (try saying that after a few pints) which is the biggest city in the state of Gujarat. We weren't staying overnight so we had two large day-rooms were we could freshen up and chill out before our little excursion. The day room had an amazing internet connection (the best we'd had) so we pretty much didn't talk to each other for an hour.

Raj told us about a massive mall in the city and obviously being orthodox consumers we all said we'd love to go. The mall was incredibly Western and while we were in there Lauren and I kind of forgot we were in India. First point of call was food; so we split off and us two decided on Subway (easiest familiar veggie option) and the other picked KFC. The subway wasn't all that different to those at home except there were many more delicious veggie options over and above the 'pattie'. I got a spicy pea burger 6 inch which was pretty darn good. It was easily one of the most expensive places we'd eaten in India though! We wandered into the KFC to meet the others where they explained that the restaurant's entire staff were deaf. We looked over to see the servers signing to each other. How bloody brilliant!

Sufficiently stuffed with chain food we were let of our leads to do some shopping. I ended up buying a mini second-hand laptop from, believe it or not, CEX. This blogging and photographing malarkey has proved very difficult/near impossible with only a crap Kindle and a crap phone so I figured it was an investment. We then picked up a few snacks in the supermarket in preparation for our sleeper train journey later that evening.

Our next sight was a little more cultural; Mahatma Ghandi's Sabarmati Ashram. One of two Ashram's in Ahmedabad, this one was where Ghandi spent most of his time during his key political years in India and now houses a museum in his honour. Although I've read some fairly disparaging articles on Ghandi's treatment of his wife (I won't say any more here), the Ashram really painted a great picture of what he, and his followers sacrificed and achieved for India. I even had a go at weaving some thread (charakha), a practice upheld greatly by Ghandi and the Indian people. I felt pretty inspired and emotional by the end of our visit but was quickly distracted and annoyed by my anti-tragus piercing falling out - first world problems hey.

After another hour at the day room to shower and repack we made our way to the train station. Lauren and I had a tuk tuk to ourselves to the station and boy was it the scariest ride of our lives. The driver was incredibly reckless and at one point actually crashed into the back of a motorcycle (only a nudge but still). Clearly sensing our fragile state a local bird at the train station very generously decided to shit on Lauren's head for good luck. A good omen after a near-death ride.

Raj showed us to our cabin where we would be hanging out for 9 hours on the overnight train to Mumbai. Lauren and I were sharing a double bunk and beside us Jack and Helen were on a triple-bunk with another triple-bunk adjacent. We saw a few cockroaches scurrying around but we were pretty exhilarated to be experiencing a proper Indian rail experience alongside local people. Earlier at the mall I'd bought a few little juice cartons for the journey. One of them was called Jaljeera juice and let me tell you it's a taste sensation. If you've ever thought to yourself, ooo I'm really thirsty but I'm also really craving a curry, this is the drink for you. Essentially a curry in juice form, jaljeera won the award for the only Indian foodstuff that I've disliked. Anyway back to the train; the beds came with clean sheets and a pillow and after securing our bags as best we could we were off to dreamland.

Amazingly, despite being on what I can only imagine is the nearest thing to a prison bed, but on a moving vehicle, we did manage to get a few hours of sleep. We were awoken at 5am by the family opposite who were getting off at the first stop but 6 hours is pretty good I reckon. At around 6am Raj came through looking fresh as a daisy as always and told us to get our bags ready for our imminent disembarkation.

I must mention the toilet situation on the train, as expected the loo was a long-drop style squat, with a sink but no soap or loo roll. There was also a handy bar to hold on to when in transit. When we were waiting at the station to get on the train we noticed rail staff sweeping and hosing down the tracks. Raj told us that they were cleaning away the crap (literally) from the previous train's toilet. So basically when you do your business on the train it goes directly onto the tracks. Not too crazy I know but then Raj told us a story of a woman who was using the train squat and suddenly gave birth (onto the tracks) while the train was in motion. Miraculously the newborn baby and the mother survived and were reunited at a hospital a few hours after the event. Who knew having a baby was as easy as taking a shit!?

And so we were in Mumbai at Hotel Fortune; where the floor in reception is some sort of weird and seemingly cruel fish tank. The room was the worst to date; it had an ant infestation, reeked of diesel and the toilet didn't flush. But we were only there for one night. We went for a very expensive and very disappointing Westernised breakfast followed by a taxi tour around the city. Mumbai was incredibly hot and as you'd expect very very busy.

The next activity was a city taxi tour. We were both incredibly tired from the multiple early starts and fractured train sleep and in all honesty our hearts just weren't in said tour. But we went along anyway, keen not to miss anything in our one allocated day in former Bombay.
During the tour, while some of the others stopped for an energy lift in McDonalds (pfft) Lauren found a stall selling sugar cane juice for 10p. Wow that stuff hits you straight in the diabetes - yum!
We visited all the usual sights; the old colonial architecture present in university, government and hospital buildings, another Ghandi museum, Dhobi Ghat (open laundrette slum), Malabar hill (where all the super-rich Indians live) and, in complete opposition, a huge slum. We didn't go into the slum just saw the outside and frankly I don't think we could really appreciate the scale and reality of it all from just looking for a few minutes.

Raj took us on a quick walk through some markets and to the Gateway of India; a left over colonial monstrosity built for King George V. At the Gateway we were inundated with requests for photographs to the point were it got little too much. Lauren even had one man taking photos of her calf tattoo - which made her regret getting her legs out. Here's a snippet of some of the attention;

Then, after 3 ATMs declining our card, we went for dinner at Leopald café; a Western establishment that had been the target of a terrorist attack in 2008. Food was naff and expensive and really we weren't at all enamoured with Mumbai. The timing wasn't great as we were super exhausted and we only had a day there, but overall we found it too busy, too much like any familiar city and a bit void of substance.

Back at our hotel we grabbed a Baskin Robbins ice-cream and Michael got himself a haircut in a proper Indian 'saloon' as they call it. We set our alarms for 2am for our flight to Goa... yawn. Oh well, at least we weren't in our crappy room for too long. Onto our final India destination!

Posted by advensha 07:08 Archived in India Tagged india ahmedabad tour mumbai mall backpacking travelling maharashtra gateway_of_india ghandi colonialism g_adventures fake_celebrities Comments (0)

India: Udaipur

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Once again we had an early start to get a local train from Ajmer station to Udaipur from Pushkar. We were the first in the hotel's restaurant and it seemed like the servers had been woken up just to feed us. I robbed some Vegemite from our Australian buddies and semi-conscious we hopped into the tuk tuks on our way to the station.

The train journey was 6 hours and it wasn't as 'luxury' as the first one we had from Delhi to Agra (we didn't get fed), however at this point we all feel much more acclimatised to India. We were sat in rows of three and we (Lauren, Justine and I) were facing an older lady who sang loudly to her music player, and a middle-aged couple. It was a bit of a cramp especially considering the fact we all had many bags to stuff away but generally the journey was pleasant. We chatted, slept a bit, played cards, read and played around with the chunky prison-esque shutters and bars on the windows. One other novelty (which I cringe slightly to admit), was throwing our rubbish out the window - only copying the rest of the carriage of course. It felt very naughty and wrong but it also felt appropriate at the time.

As we alighted from the train, bums and backs a little stiff and sore, we were transported to Hotel Vishnu Priya. The hotel was very big and modern, with a large lounge area that included an unusual mini-fountain with some carp swimming around. We had lunch in the hotel café (probably the most confusing service yet) that was really delicious and insisted on a nap. A few hours later, refreshed (ish), Raj took us on our orientation walk. He led us alongside some paintings depicting the history of Udaipur on one long wall running through the town. We then stopped at Janak Arts where we met a trendy looking enigmatic man with long floppy hair and very good English. The 'shop' was an arts centre (and also a hotel) for miniature painting; something Udaipur is famous for. Said gentleman (we'll call him Janak) and another artist talked us through the process of creating miniature paintings, the history and present day art. One of the things we learned was that the paintbrushes use squirrel tail hairs and camel's eyelashes. They did reassure us that they don't kill the animals they just take the hairs they need from them. Whether or not we believe that is another matter. Anyway the paintings are typically of peacocks, elephants, camels, gods and goddesses. The artist then painted little (very detailed) murals on our fingernails ranging from colourful birds to a fornicating couple. We were all suitably impressed and when Janak offered a whole range of activities to us such as painting class, palm reading, henna tattoos and a cooking class, we all lapped it up and booked in. Lauren and I decided on the painting class and henna tattoos - because we're soooo artistic. But that was for the following day...

That evening Raj took us to the 'Cultural Show' at Bagore Ki Haveli where we saw traditional live Indian music, dancing, puppets and a mini-play (in Hindi and English). The pièce de résistance was a hexagenarian lady in full Indian dress dancing and standing on glass with 11 clay pots balancing on her head. Every time the lady went to the side of the stage (where we were sitting) to have another 2 or 3 pots put on her head we were all gasping and screaming in disbelief. It was all very theatrical and fun. We also met another group doing a G Adventures tour but theirs was the 'Comfort' level (the highest) and ours was 'Yolo' (the lowest). As expected this group were much older and posher than we were. The British lady we spoke to was from London but lived in Bristol now. When I mentioned that we were moving to St. Werbughs I saw her face stifle a grimace. Her response to my question on whereabouts she lived was 'Clifton, dahhling!'. Dear oh dear. But she was nice enough and it was fun to see her shock at what our tour entailed; local buses, squat toilets and god forbid - street food.

For dinner we went to a very swish restaurant called Tribute. The service here was outstanding, but it made me miss the befuddlement we'd gotten used to. The meal was amazing (if a little expensive) and I got very drunk off-of ONE pina colada. Classic Aisha.

The next day was our first free one. We could do whatever the hell we wanted and naturally, we didn't know what the hell we wanted! Luckily we'd already pre-booked our painting class and 10am so paying close attention to our orientation walk from the previous day we managed to find our way to Janak Arts. We chose our subjects; a mor (peacock) for me and a haathee (elephant) for Lauren. Following the tutor's instructions we painted our mini masterpieces and Lauren's in particular came out brilliant. When we'd finished, Janak came down and decorated our hands and Lauren's arm with henna. Janak took a particular liking to Lauren and asked that I leave her in India. We were impressed with our hennas at first but after a few days and more time in India we realised it was pretty crap and pretty overpriced. We should have gotten a woman to do it. They both rubbed off in 7 days (he said they would last 3 weeks).

Unsure as to what to do next we climbed the 4 flights of stairs to the top of Janak Arts to see over the city. The weather at this point was well and truly scorchio and we were all desperate to get our skin out, but alas this wasn't appropriate until Goa. We walked around the shops for a bit, mainly trying to find a supermarket or a pharmacy (which we didn't) and then head back to the hotel. On the way back we had a wander round the Tibetan market and found nothing remotely Tibetan (except a few of the traders themselves). After a bit of a snooze we ventured back out for late lunch, following the well-placed signs for the eco-café Millets of Mewar that I'd found online and was desperate to go to. Although it was much further away than we'd anticipated, it was worth it. A fully organic, ethical little eatery who's dishes were built around the grain millet. We bought some museli, cookies and anklets ('cos we're suckers for little coopertives) and went back to Janak arts where the rest of the group were finishing their cooking class.

Because we're creatures of habit and also lazy, we went back to Millets of Mewar the following morning for breakfast with Mona. This time there was only one poor boy (probably 14 years old) looking after the whole café on his own. Consequently our orders took a while and were a little wrong but the food was still amazing and thankfully Mona loved it too. We met two British men who were also travelling around India and recommended going to see a Bollywood film where we had in Jaipur. They enthusiastically and gratefully took down the details we gave them and for the first time I felt like a proper traveller with knowledge and stuff. The one stain on our breakfast was the fact my monthly cycle decided to make an early appearance while I was sat Indian-style on a beautifully embroidered cushion. Luckily I caught it just in time. Fucking womanhood.

The three of us, keen to do any activity remotely cultural besides eating, shopping and walking around, decided to travel up Karni Mata rope way; a cable car up one of Udaipur's highest hills. At the top there were numerous viewpoints and meandering pathways so we went for an explore, as you do. A number of times we were spooked by the local monkeys and screamed and jumped like proper little girls. At one point Lauren knocked down a sign, shit herself and her and Mona ran off leaving me confused and on my own and wondering whether they'd been attacked by a rabid monkey.

We went back to the hotel where the rest of the group were at the pool celebrating Australia Day. We had some yummy homemade mojitos and decided not to get semi-naked along with our pals. Goa awaits after all. We then all tried to go to the City Palace for evening drinks but were told we needed our passports (which we didn't have on us). After losing Raj in the confusion of it all we found a restaurant that we thought was the one he'd chosen (it wasn't) that had a lovely view over the lake and all of the palaces. We spent far too much on food and cocktails but considering it was also India's Republic Day (when no one's supposed to drink) we were just glad we'd found some booze full stop. I must mention also that the tuk tuk driver that took us to said restaurant told us he was related to the King who'd founded Kama Sutra and that this King died young because he'd had too much sex. Legend.

To finish the evening off Raj sourced us a bottle of rum and we all shared it in Hattie and Michael's hotel room, getting to know each other better and showing off our best (cough worst) yoga moves.

Posted by advensha 23:49 Archived in India Comments (3)

India: Pushkar

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After the night we'd had in Tordi, I for one was glad our next stop was Pushkar; the spiritual home of India, a Hindu pilgrimage, a place where no meat, eggs or alcohol can be found or consumed. A veritable detox spot... I hoped.

We waved goodbye to Tordi Palace in the afternoon and hopped onto our 4x4 to Pushkar; a 2 1/2 hour journey. We did one of our usual toilet stops, where once again, we partook in some chai drinking and went to the loo. Beside the squats was a large cage full of budgerigars and canaries who seemed happy enough. We sat for a while, the ever-increasing heat activating our sweat glands.

Not long after, we arrived at Hotel New Park Inn, a lovely looking place, again with high ceilings and big old-fashioned wooden doors. The hotel has lovely well-manicured gardens as well as a swimming pool (that we weren't brave/energised enough to try out). At the front of the hotel was a notice reminding patrons to cover up their shoulders, knees and chests, to not be publicly intimate and to not drink alcohol or eat meat. The lairy Brit in me wanted to be photographed next to said sign with my boobs out, drinking a Kingfisher, eating a burger and groping someone, but luckily Lauren encouraged me to get a grip (figuratively at least).

We had lunch in the hotel and chuckled at the menu that offered 'fried aborigine' and 'diet cock' and then set off on our orientation walk. As expected the vibe of Pushkar was very 'chill', but as we progressed further into the town this tranquillity evolved into a familiar Westernised commercialism; catering particularly to middle-class European 'hippies' (or as my Dad would call them, Plasti-farians) and Israeli tourists.
There were rows and rows of health-food shops selling bee pollen and spirulina, sometimes with an ayurvedic twist, as well as tattoo parlours and salons offering Hindu symbolism and dreadlocks.

One bonus for us was the proliferation of makeshift pharmacies, where Lauren could pick up some pretty strong cold and flu medicine (that we're pretty sure would be illegal in the UK) for next to nothing. She bought some Sno-Kuff that promises to 'curb the coughing beast' (that's honestly what's printed on the packet) and contains; Loratadine, Paracetamol, Dextromethorphan, Pseudoephedrine, Caffeine and Sunset Yellow - yummy! All for under 50p for 20 tablets - bargain!

Enough about drugs, we then walked to Pushkar lake; a sacred site where many Hindu celebrations and rituals take place. We sat in front of the lake, barefoot and took all of it in, difficult for us to fully appreciate the significance this body of water holds for so many Indians. Our short attention spans were quickly distracted by the roaming street children and stray dogs. There seemed to be more young, unsupervised street children in Pushkar than anywhere else we'd visited. There was one girl, probably around 3 years old, who was full of mischief and charm and was running around the lake playing a game with herself by climbing the stairs with her hands. She had hair I'd not yet seen on an Indian child; a mass of matted black frizz that formed a large mane around her dirty face. She wasn't as enterprising as the other children who were begging or selling, she was in her own little innocent world.

At one point we turned around and saw Mona, our statuesque Norwegian, with all the features of a typical Scandinavian, holding an Indian baby only a few months old. We later realised that said baby was being parented and passed around by what looked like its 5 year old sibling. To be fair to the sister, if there's one way to get money out of me it's by handing me a baby.

We watched the sunset at the lake and refrained from photographs as requested (although many of the hippies ignored the signs) and popped a few metres behind to where our restaurant was for the evening. Lauren, who initially said she wasn't hungry ended up getting two courses; MASSIVE bread pakoras to start followed by a paneer curry. I got a crepe (standard) and everyone else in the crew (including Raj) got pizza.

I must raise an observation here about the service in India that we've experienced. I am by no means generalising all Indian servers or hospitality establishments here, but generally we've found service to be scatty and slow, but ALWAYS with a smile. At every meal, at least one of us was waiting for 20 minutes or more after everyone else had been served and generally meals just took longer than we're accustomed to - which didn't cause issue at all. The other peculiar thing (for us) was that 99% of the servers completely forgot what we'd ordered. So as they were bringing out the drinks or dishes, they would give them to someone else on the table, meaning we'd all have to do a swap and shuffle around. None of this was a hindrance, if anything I see it as an eccentricity of dining in India. Lauren thinks my scatterbrain would fit perfectly and that I should apply for a waitressing job in India.

Anyway, back to the day in hand. It was Michael's birthday and to our surprise at the end of our Indian-Italian meal a big birthday cake came out with his name emblazoned across it. A large (even for 9 people) chocolate ice cream cake. We performed the customary Happy Birthday song and all tucked in. It was a lovely little slice of celebration that our CEO Raj had organised secretly.

One other thing to mention about the evening was the restaurant's toilet facilities. Like many have been, the washrooms were situated outside and round the back of the restaurant. I went at the beginning of our meal and they were pretty standard; one squat and one sit-down toilet, no toilet roll and a communal sink outside (no soap). However we later learned from Helen that when she ventured in at the end of the meal, she was faced with one loo covered in vomit and one covered in shit. Oh and the sink outside was also decorated with puke. If the same person was responsible for all messes I sincerely hope they're ok. Unfortunately we didn't get to experience this sight, otherwise I would have definitely gotten photo evidence for you all.

We retired to bed as we had an early start and I managed to smash a glass across our entire bathroom floor. We sent for assistance and an old gentleman came in with one of the familiar Indian stick-brooms (I'm sure they have a proper name) and put all of the shards of glass in our open plastic bin. Here's hoping the cleaners and bin-collectors are used to getting glassed.

The following morning we arose at 6am ish for our sunrise hike up Ratnagiri hill to Savitri temple. It took about 40 minutes in total and it was pretty damn steep so we all got our heart rates up. I, being an unfit sloth, lagged behind in the second group of climbers, but poor Lauren really suffered getting up there. A combination of old-age and her unique skill at being able to avoid even micro physical movements wherever possible. *Lauren has asked that I mention she was still full of a cough and cold.* We're both now committed to doing 3 star jumps every night before bed. That'll sort it.

We all did make it to the top and were greeted by a beautiful pile of discarded plastic bottles. The view over Pushkar was pretty spectacular and we also saw plenty of monkeys hanging around and jumping from tree to tree. There was a little corner-shop at the top of the hill where we bought some trusted masala chai. The shop owner has a pet dog called Judy who guarded us from monkeys and any stray dogs that wandered up the hill.
We had a look in the temple itself; a shrine to Savitri the wife of Hindu god Brahma.

Filled with pride, sugar and exhaustion, we descended, and went on to visit the Brahma temple. We went into the temple in two groups (with Raj), as it was very busy and crowded. It was nice to see Raj visiting a place of real spiritual significance to him and getting involved in the traditional offerings and gestures. Brahma (who has four faces) is very important as he is the creator-god in Hinduism (GOD standing for Generator, Operator and Destroyer). In the temple there were TV screens so that when it's really busy, people can still see the statue of Brahma and pray to it. Lauren, Mona and I were in the first group and as the other group went in we waited outside on the street with everyone's bags. As soon as the other group and Raj were out of sight we were pounced on by local people wanted photographs of us; with them or on our own, wanting us to hold their babies and pose with their children and family. Soon there was a crowd surrounding us of about 20 people; all ages, men, women and children. We were very much amused if not a little apprehensive as we were guarding everyone's backpacks. Luckily one of our 'fans' spoke good English and told people to keep back and not harass us in Hindi which helped a little. I actually filmed some of it;

We went for a well-deserved breakfast (no meat or eggs) and watched some people on rooftops practising yoga. We then went for ayurvedic full body massages. Lauren and I were together and as soon as we walked into treatment room, the massage therapists (two Indian ladies one of whom was heavily pregnant) didn't bother with any traditional introductory greetings and simply said 'take off all clothes'. We squirmed slightly in our British prudishness but obliged (it's not like we haven't seen each other naked before). We were pummelled for a good hour and it was pretty damn good. I was a little concerned by the copper pot balancing perfectly above my face containing hot oil but it didn't scold me so all good. At the end we were directed to sit down on small stools, facing each other, naked. We were then (and I have no other way of describing this) smacked around our heads and faces for a few minutes. It was a pretty pleasurable experience until my lady roughly tugged on my ears and almost pulled all of my piercings out.

We thanked the ladies and head off back into Pushkar town for lunch and shopping. Shopping was fairly ordinary and boring; there was a bit of bartering which is a bit fun but we didn't get anything outstanding. We then had the best falafel of our lives for less than 2 quid for both of us including drinks. Good food always makes shopping more bearable.

After freshening up at the hotel (Loz washed her hair with a bar of soap because we're too stingy to buy shampoo), we got a Jeep to the sandy planes of Pushkar. There we met the four from our group who were just finishing their camel rides (we didn't do the rides as we're keen not to be part of any animal related activities that could involve cruelty). We were shown to a little camp where cushions and trays had been laid out for us on the sand. We sat down (Indian style of course) and the G Adventures group that were a day behind us turned up too. Soon we were handed traditional male and female Indian clothes to put on. We all though we looked rather fetching in our little cultural appropriation outfits and of course took plenty of selfies. We were then treated to a whole festival of performances; a group of Indian nomadic people (the Kalbeliya tribe) played us some traditional music (drums, singing and some instruments we didn't recognise) and the women veraciously danced. Their homemade outfits were incomprehensibly vivid and had a hypnotising effect. A man of the same group did fire breathing and the women did showed off their crazy flexibility. At one point they dragged all 20 of us up to join hands and dance around the fire-pit after sunset in our traditional dress. A real highlight for me.

By far, our favourite 'act' of the evening was an enchanting young magician (whose name escapes us) who was as funny as he was convincing (very). He had a broad accent but used this fact to his advantage. He made strange noises when he was performing tricks and often double bluffed us all. He referred to his 'magic cello' a stick of some sort that he grazed across the underside of his forearm. He was, and excuse the pun, magical. His closing trick was obviously a good 'un; he made two live doves appear from absolutely nowhere. See video below of him in action;

Oh and I almost forgot, we got fed too, a load of local young men had come to the camp in the day time and prepared all our food on gas stoves in the sand. We had a thali style plate with a few options, not too dissimilar from the traditional simple dal baati dish from Tordi, but with a few extra options like a very spicy chutney and some poppadoms. We also got our favourite pudding; gulab jamon.

After a truly unique experience we went back to the hotel all feeling pretty lucky. I finished the night off by watching the second half of the film Taken which was on the only English TV channel. Lauren slept and coughed and slept and coughed. Bless her.

Posted by advensha 03:47 Archived in India Tagged birds india backpacking travelling backpackers pushkar ayurvedic g_adventures Comments (1)

India: Tordi

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After a comparative lie-in and more leisurely breakfast at the hotel caf, we hopped onto our cosy minibus destined for Tordi; a rural village in Rajasthan. The journey took approx. 5 hours and we stopped twice, once for the supermarket for snacks (and in our case, delicious ayurvvedic cough syrup) and again at more of a truck stop for the wash room (which was more of a building site).

After a bumpy ride we arrived at our accommodation; Tordi Palace. A beautiful big old 'heritage' hotel with sprawling grounds and gardens. We were taken through the palace building and around the back to a courtyard where some other buildings stood - including our quarters. Our room had a lovely old double wooden door with the original shutter behind it that closed with a long bolt and padlock. To our surprise and delight, there was a massive king size bed in the room too (as well as a single in the corner) meaning we could finally have a good spoon! In the trip thus far, we've been given twin rooms (owing to the fact we're two women), which was fine at first but then we missed each other a bit. Bearing in mind PDAs are completely off the cards so we are never touching. We were starting to feel like 'best friends', which is exactly what we told any locals that asked. I must say though, the heterosexual couples often had it worse than we did. On a few occasions Lauren and I felt comfortable to hold hands, mainly because in India it's normal to see same-sex 'couples' holding hands as a sign of friendship. However if either of the other two straight couples held hands, or had a peck or cuddle, they were often met with glaring looks and disapproving stares. The reality is that it probably wouldn't cross people's minds that Lauren and I, two women, could be in an actual relationship. So in some ways, we 'got away with it'. But yes, the king size bed at Tordi was a nice reprieve.

The room really was gorgeous; traditional lattice windows with shutters and 15 foot high ceilings. The rolling power-cuts didn't mind us that much; we still managed to charge our bag full of devices. It just got a little tricky at night time when we needed a wee. Anyway, we were served some lunch on the rooftop, a traditional local dish; dal-baati-churma, basically a lentil-based mild curry (more like a gravy), home-made bread balls and a crumbly sweet pudding made of ground wheat and a whole lot of sugar and ghee. It was incredibly simple but by far our favourite dish thus far. We had a rest for the remainder of the day as we were still feeling under the weather. Some of the others played a game of cricket with the hotel staff and other tour groups.

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After a few hours of rest, Raj took us around some of the local farms where we saw an array of birds (including a baby owl) and crops such as gourd, cauliflower, squash and mustard. We also saw an 800 year old step-well where we found a snake's old skin.

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Wandering through the fields and seeing young men and women carrying heavy loads and driving tractors was a real insight into how hard life is for those in Tordi, and made me wonder whether any of the ingredients in one of our dinners back home has come from an underpaid farmer in Rajasthan. We then jeep'd to the village itself where we got a small glimpse into Tordi resident's lives. As expected their homes were modest, open blocks but practical and well-functioning. Some ladies talked about how hard they worked and how they spent a lot of their time cooking and cleaning (with a baby permanently attached to them). We were waved at by the children and at one point thought we were almost charged by a bull.

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We then travelled to the sand dunes and climbed up to watch the sunset and drink tea, beer and eat biscuits (how very English!). Lauren almost had an aneurysm trying to climb up the dunes as a result of her chesty cold (and COUGH lack of fitness COUGH). On our way back to Tordi palace we stopped at a high point to take some pictures and absorb the picturesque landscape - blue sky aplenty.

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Back at the hotel we ventured up to the rooftop where music was playing and a makeshift bar had been opened. I tried some Indian fennel liqueur (much like Ouzo) which predictably blew my head off and made me very drunk very quickly. Then the cards came out and all inhibitions were lost. After a few games of 'horse race' (a drinking game Michael introduced to us) we were all doing our best Bollywood moves under the stars. I, while mimicking one of the Bollywood moves we'd learned, spectacularly fell backwards onto the concrete floor. Amazingly I managed to not injure myself and sprang back up again. As you can imagine the drunken fall was the comedy event of the trip and Lauren even managed to capture it on her SJ Cam (video below). Not long after my face-planting, Lauren and I threw in the towel and called it a night. Probably for the best.

The next morning we had breakfast on the infamous rooftop. We then went on our orientation walk round the local town in Tordi, where we were met by lots of cute and enthusiastic children, one of whom (who clearly didn't like wearing trousers) relentlessly asked for 'foto foto' all because he wanted to see himself on the screen. We bought some notepads, pens and socks and brought them to a local school to hand out. On the way to the school we were treated to a lesson in Indian pottery by a local man still managing to get by making lassi cups, bowls and piggy banks, all by hand and with no electricity. A few of us tried our hand at moulding the clay - my heavy handed-ness didn't lend itself well to the craft.
See below video of said children enamoured by seeing themselves on camera;

That was it for Tordi and we were soon on our way to Pushkar - 150 km away.

Posted by advensha 00:34 Archived in India Tagged india backpacking backpackers tordi g_adventures indian_crafts tordi_village indian_pottery ancient_step_well Comments (0)

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