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India

India: Observations and Curiosities

Musings on certain Indian eccentricities from one sheltered, semi-ignorant English girl. WARNING: may contain sweeping generalisations.

As we were travelling around India, like a good little pretend-journalist I noted down any little things that peaked my interest and I have listed them below. I don't know whether these idiosyncrasies are exclusive to India or whether or not I just haven't noticed them elsewhere before.

  • In the hotels/hostels/guest-houses we stayed in, one very small roll of toilet paper is provided which between two people lasts barely a day. You have to ask for more toilet roll and even then they will only give you one at a time.

Obviously this will be related mainly to the fact that most Indian's do not use loo roll and instead use the 'bum gun' or, as we saw more often, a tap and small bucket arrangement to clean themselves. I also presume that because of this (and the fact India is a poor country), toilet paper must be relatively expensive. The other explanation is that the plumbing systems perhaps can't handle much if any paper and Western tourists like us are notorious for clogging them up.

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  • The staff at hotels (concierges, cleaners etc.) seem to live in the hotel's corridors and landings. In many of the places we stayed, when we came back late in the evening, or if we left early in he morning, there were men sleeping on the corridor with a few blankets and some food around them.
  • There were many more trees in India than I expected, especially in the cities. The trees are also painted near the bottom of their trunks so that people don't cut them down and try and sell them.
  • No two horns are the same. Whether it's a car, a tuk tuk, a bus, an articulated lorry or a motorbike, each horn has its own personality and flair. Whether or not this is down to vehicle manufacturers, age or wear and tear I don't know, but I like to think that there are big horn stores where people go to select their favourite model. Think the doorbell shop from that Simpsons episode.
  • Everything is cheap (at least compared to Europe) but for some reason, laundry is expensive.

Perhaps it is only expensive to us tourists but the system that seemed to be the norm was you pay a price per item of clothing. So different clothing items have a slightly different price; regardless of their weight. This means that a very thin linen jacket will be the same price to launder as a big heavy coat. We only had laundry done for us twice, and to give you some idea of the expense, we had one medium sized paper bag's worth of clothes washed in Goa and it cost us £15! And, when the clothes come back, they're not 'clean' to our standard anyway - stains are still present and they don't smell great.

  • The coffee-shop phenomenon has not escaped India.

There's a chain called Café Coffee Day that is fairly ubiquitous in most of India. We went in a few and they're really basic, with a few coffee options along with some breaded items (not fresh) and a few soups etc. The ones we went into were always pretty empty and had no atmosphere. I'd guess that they're still building custom - although they must be doing ok otherwise they wouldn't keep popping up everywhere. Costa and Starfucks exist too, especially in Westernised areas.

  • Indians love to decorate things.

Whether it's their car, their house, their baby, the tarmac outside their house, Indians certainly aren't afraid of adorning their possessions with all the colours of the rainbow. We often saw babies with dark kohl under their eyes which I hate to admit made them look even cuter. They're also fond of personalisation; the taxi drivers particularly like to put their names and a little phrase or saying on their back window.

  • Even though there are (approx.) 2000 rupees in £20 and notes start at 10 rupees (i.e. A LOT of notes), no one ever seems to have change. We were forever trying and often failing to 'break' 500 and 1000 rupee notes. This meant we often overpaid (not by much) for things just because it was easier.
  • There's a whole language in head bobbing.

We didn't get chance to research this body language but we definitely immediately noticed the side to side (ear to shoulder) head bob which means yes. It was a little confusing at first because it's a bit similar to our negative head shake. There is a whole alphabet of head bobs in Indian interaction and it's fascinating to watch and also quite contagious!

  • Indian's use A LOT of sugar in their food.

Whenever we got any drink, whether tea, coffee, juice etc. we would always be served with a bowl of sugar and/or honey. This would be on top of the sugar that was already in the drink. The masala chai tea was sooo incredibly sweet (which is probably why we loved it so much). But it wasn't just drinks, food was often sweetened (curries too). It was also incredibly difficult to get diet or 'light' drinks like Diet Coke - and when you could get it, it cost anywhere between 50 - 100% more than 'full fat' coke (I'm presuming the demand is a lot lower). It's also worth noting that Pepsi is much more common than Coca Cola in India. We did see a lot about diabetes being an issue and I can see why. However, for someone with a sweet tooth like me it was pretty amazing!

  • Barcadi Breezers are the go-to bottled drink (besides beer).

This was very nostalgic for us and our early clubbing days. If only they also had my favourite (but extinct) alcopop; Reef.

Posted by advensha 03:18 Archived in India Tagged india indian adventure goa ahmedabad backpacker lesbian mumbai delhi backpacking traveller jaipur udaipur travelling agra pushkar observations musings tordi g_adventures curiosities Comments (0)

India: South Goa - Patnem and Palolem

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After 3 days in Calangute we were happy to be moving on. We very much enjoyed the heat, the beach and Alor hotel but we wanted to move on to somewhere quieter and less Westernised.

After a 2 hour taxi ride we arrived at Palm Trees; our hotel in Patnem, South Goa. And you certainly couldn't accuse it of false advertising; to get to our room we had to climb through an aisle of palm trees. We were staying at 'Majesty Palm', our own private hut built from bamboo and with, you guessed it, ONE king size bed!

Our hosts were George (Goan) and Laura (American) both of whom were incredibly helpful. Fortunately, Laura was as passionate about food as we are and so told us where to get the best that Goan cuisine had to offer (which was a lot).

Compared with our tour, we didn't do an awful lot in the 6 days we were at Patnem; we figured we deserved some R&R in the form of long lie-ins, aimless wandering, regular snacking (as always), gentle swimming and overall reclining on a sunny beach.

Our hut was a wonderful place to recoup and let all our experiences so far sink into our unconscious. The area was so quiet, all we could hear were the resident crows that live in the trees. The one less peaceful auditory experience was the sound of a motorbike being unsuccessfully revved for 15 minutes every late morning at around 10am. This didn't bother us though, in fact it amused us greatly. We just couldn't fathom the tenacity and spirit of the poor man or woman clearly getting repetitive strain injury in their wrist. Grainy video below (apologies for quality - my phone is almost as old as the Taj Mahal).

Another welcome feature of our hotel was the complimentary breakfast at the café next door. We went each and every morning, Lauren getting an Indian dish whether it be dosa or something else and me getting some cold milk, bowl and spoon (for my museli) and a black coffee. Even though our orders were the same daily, our waiter (who had an air of Rylan about him), always gave us the wrong dish. This never failed to make us chuckle.

Our most imminent task was getting more dosh out, so we hot footed in to the nearest town 2km away called Chaudi where we found an ATM that serviced us. The town was small but full of the familiar Indian hustle and bustle we'd gotten used to; street food, beeping, tuk tuks, dirty roads, pointless sweeping and limited oxygen to breathe. There were Indian sweet shops, bakeries, toy shops (with Indian Barbies that Lauren wouldn't let me buy) and electronics stores. I even managed to pick up some flax seeds. The walk gave us an opportunity to see a bit of rural Goa; sprawling farms and grassland with copious water-buffalo, eagles, wrens, cows and plenty of dogs.

For our first supper in South Goa Lauren scouted out a well-reviewed little restaurant/cooking tuition centre called Peter Bar. Hidden away among some huge beautiful trees, we sat on cushions and were joined by a few very sweet begging dogs. We were warned by the waitress that our food would take upwards of an hour to be served as there was a cooking class on. We were happy to relax and ignore our rumbling tummies for a short while. The food was amazing and we couldn't rate it highly enough. Lauren, fresh from her recent Tibetan meal, got momos, and I decided on a fish thali.

One day (mainly out of boredom), we bravely ventured to the Kranti yoga retreat (Patnem is full of yoga fanatics, spiritualists, and health foodies) to have a sunset Ashtanga yoga session while looking out to the Arabian sea. Our instructor was the leanest and most sinewy person we'd ever seen in our lives. I am not exaggerating when I say she had ZERO body fat. She was also at least 6 foot tall and had swimmer's shoulders. We were a little scared.
Luckily, the session wasn't too different from the yoga we'd done in Manchester, it just had a much quicker pace. We were without doubt below average but we did our very best; even managing not to laugh when everyone loudly exclaimed OOOOHHHMMM!

On one evening, Helen and Jack from our tour came over to Patnem to have dinner with us from the neighbouring town they were staying at; Palolem. In typical style, Lauren and I, having been in the sea and sun all day and not eaten for 5 hours, drank a fair number of 2-4-1 cocktails (attempting to keep up with the Aussies obviously). Then, Jack being a professional fisherman, selected the best seafood for the three of us to devour (Lauren staying loyal to her vegetarianism). The fish was amazing, particularly the squid, but unfortunately it didn't hang around to be digested as I vomited it all up shortly after saying our goodbyes. Ah well, it's not all bad, I may have lost a few ounces...
We later found out that Helen was also ill (but hers lasted for a few days whereas mine passed after 24 hours), which made me feel less silly.

The following evening, after a day of small, plain foods and replacement electrolytes, we decided to save some money and go back to Chaudi to have street food for dinner. At 6pm the food push-carts open up in a small square where the taxis and tuk tuks are stationed. Although armed with some advice from Laura, we weren't entirely sure what everything was and so did a bit of 'one of everything'. We started with Gobi Manchurian (we didn't know that's what it was called at the time). It's a bright red plate of deep fried and spiced cauliflower with shredded raw cabbage and crispy bits on top. We followed this with some spicy deep fried potatoes (not sure on the proper name). For pudding, we wandered over to what looked like the ice cream stall and Lauren ordered one cone. She was then presented with two pint glasses full of what appeared to be custard. Happy to give anything a go we didn't quibble and took some hearty gulps of the thick yellow gloop. It turned out to be a very sweet, thick, almond milkshake. Needless to say we were as happy as pigs in shit; everything was delicious and in total (including the tuk tuk back) cost less than £3!

Later on in the week we met up with Hattie and Michael from our tour in Palolem. Palolem is bigger and louder than Patnem, with many more tourists and touts to match. We went on a sunset sea cruise where we saw both dolphins and some young Indian men on another boat showing off. Surprisingly, there's a distinct shortage of authentic (and well-reviewed) Goan restaurants in Palolem so we settled on an Italian, which, even though I'm not into pizza or pasta, was very very good.

We had considered going to the Infamous Goa Silent Disco on Saturday night the day before we left but neither of us could muster up enough enthusiasm to justify the taxi travel, entry fees and booze, so we very boringly stayed in instead. We did however enjoy a bit of a rave because that night in our hut there was some sort of creature making bizarre clicking and squeaking noises. It was probably our consciences berating us for being old farts.

On our last day, before our late flight at 10pm, we found another little cute café called Jaali where Lauren spotted Joe McGann; a famous Liverpudlian Thespian. Unfortunately, we couldn't hang around for the Goa carnival that was on that day and evening as we had to get to the airport, but we did drive past some of the elaborate floats.

We kissed goodbye to Goa and India feeling refreshed and sad. India has gone above and beyond our expectations and we're already planning our next visit. If you haven't been yourself, I urge you to; the food, the people, the mayhem, the fun - unforgettable.

Dhanyavaad.

Posted by advensha 18:57 Archived in India Tagged sunsets_and_sunrises beaches planes india goa backpacking backpackers palolem patnem Comments (1)

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)

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