Wednesday, February 27, 2008


Well good job I didn't sign that contract with the Guardian! Well Yesterday after getting to Chennai on the train I got straight on the bus to Pondicherry. Turns out there's not much to do in Pondicherry. You can wander through the vaguely nice looking old French quarter, you can go to the pretty awful museum which feature lots of rocks and some miniature toilets (await picture), and you can eat in a nice pizzeria, or slightly French restaurants (which didn't have a licence so served me beer in a teapot) but that's about it so I left the next morning. I did stay in a nice hotel with a nice breakfast which lots of fruit and freshly baked french bread, a pleasant change from Masala Dosa! There was a Young French guy and older French woman chatting in French at breakfast, and I was able to understand almost everything they said, which bodes well for Brussels, but then the guys wife/girlfriend/whatever appeared and joined in and I could hardly understand a word she said!

The town did have quite a pleasant atmosphere in the evening in the busier more Indian part of town but I would really recommend it. This morning I got on the bus for a pleasant 2 hour jaunt up the coast road to Mamallapuram. Now I see with relief that it's only about 20 degrees in Hanoi!

Monday, February 25, 2008


After the bus to Hampi I was hoping for a nice smooth train journey to Bangalore, that wasn't quite to be: I was stuck beside the noisiest faffiest family possible, who went to bed hours after the rest of the carriage and got up hours before them too. I'd also ended up with the side bunk: the shortest one so I couldn't stretch out, and I hadn't realised there was no bedding given out in sleeper (my precious sleeper journey being a day one). The result was a very minimal amount of sleep before I got to Bangalore at 6am. I walked to some nearby recommended hotels (I'd just like to say I say the hugest dead rat ever in the station!), but they were full (or only had super-expensive rooms) so I ended up going to this dodgy one nearby. I had a look in the room, noticed the smoky smell, go the light fixed, but failed to notice the lack of a window pane, or toilet seat, or that the TV didn't work (not that I was too bothered about that). The main things were it had a good fan, a bed, and hot water (for the first time since Mumbai). I slept a good few hours there and then then headed out into Bangalore. On returning there at night I discovered that in one of drawers there was a sex education/guide book. (Un)Fortunately(?) it was in Tamil and had no photos. Not quite what Rocky Raccoon found. I also discovered that as I checked in at 7am I had to check out by 7am. Hmmm.

In Bangalore I was back to being just about the only westerner around (unlike Goa and Hampi which are tourist Meccas (Meccae?)). Only when venturing into the MG Rd area (Mahatma Ghandi Road, every Indian city/town has a prominent one of these!) you see westerners in coffee shops and Internet cafes (like this one!). I've walked a lot the last few days (in the sun as usual) but I've got the time and it's good to see the city properly. Bangalore is the busiest, more polluted with traffic fumes city I've been to here. It has an amazingly rich and modern central area (more than Mumbai) and some amazingly dirty and smelly areas too, as well as some nice parks.

After much walking on the first day (Yesterday) I visited the Science and Technology Museum. I'm ashamed to say I enjoyed this rather too much, especially the hands on exhibits some. Many of the displays were ancient and dated (a slightly more modern one featured a Motorola sponsored display on the pager being the future of communications), one of the most up to date being a rather one-sided biotechnology company sponsored display on the wonders of biotechnology and GM.

Anyway, Bangalore is not really a city of sights, though I've also seen Tipu Sultan's Fort and Palace (unfortunately his toy organ shaped like a tiger mauling a British soldier is somewhere in England!), the Botanic Gardens (glorified park really) and some other impressive parks and buildings. I've also had some very good meals and spent a lot of time in internet cafes trying to get this damn blog up to date (photos soon I promise!). Tonight at 1145pm I'm off on the train to Chennai, where I think I'll get straight on the bus to Pondicherry.


Hampi is in the centre of southern India, pretty much due East from Goa. A small village has grown to accommodate tourists in the old bazaar of the old Vijayanagara capital of Hampi. The area around is full of ruined temples and bazaars dating from around the 1500s (when colleges like Trinity were being built!), set in a strange landscape full of random precariously balanced large boulders.

We arrived on Thursday mid morning desperately short of sleep after the bus, we found a nice, very friendly, family run guest house and had a very late breakfast and set out to look at some of the nearby ruins hopefully before the day got to its hottest, but with my lack of sleep and midday tramps around Goa the previous two days I felt the worse for wear, with the sun really punishing even in the late morning. So I retired back to the "Vishnu" guest house for some sleep, while Tom went on a bit before deciding to sleep under a boulder (not the wisest move in my opinion). We had 3 days to see everything so a bit of rest was good! The heat was still intense at 5pm, whereas in Goa the breeze from the sea meant it became very pleasant as early as 4, so the next day we decided to get up early to avoid the Sun.

We hired bikes and set of to the temples to the South. Cycling was surprisingly cool and we saw a lot that morning, the photos will show it far better than I could describe. To complete the loop we were following we had to carry our bikes through some rocks and steps at the end, so we were quite dishevelled when we reached the town again for Lunch and then general hanging around doing as little as possible while the sun was at its fiercest.

When it was cooling down in the evening we climbed the nearby hill with a temple on the top, while this took only half an hour once we found the correct path, it would have been madness at midday! At the top we were rewarded with spectacular views and a troop friendly and photogenic monkeys. The view from up here was really a highlight. Similarly another of the temples, given little billing and with no entrance charge was far superior to the UNESCO listed, entry charging lotus temple and crappy old elephant stables! However, part of the charm of Hampi is the sheer scale of the site and number of minor temples and ruins that are just sitting there. Often you find yourself completely alone in a ruin, which was quite unusual as well.

On the final day in Hampi we planned to set of even earlier and see the remaining ruins over the river. Rather than take the long loop around we would carry our bikes over the steps round by the river again. Well no sooner had we struggled round through the temples and cow-shit than I realised I had a flat tire and we had to carry our bikes back through again. After this the temples and walls over the river, similar to what we'd already seen, lost their appeal and we visited the remaining site nearby the village, chatting with some friendly monkeys. We had lunch , lazed a bit and headed to nearby Hospet, where our train and bus left in the early evening.

During our stay in Goa and Hampi we were amused and infuriated by the idiosyncrasies of Indian menus designed for westerners. It took me a moment to work out what the mysterious breakfast dish "mousse-le" was (under the subheading "Farmers Breakfast's")... the infuriating thing (to me anyway) was the proliferation of Greengrocer's Apostrophe's. Everywhere! Mum, you wouldn't have coped! What was most intriguing was the dessert that appeared on the menu called "Hello to the Queen". We decided that this had to be tried, and tried it was. It was delicious. Had pretty much everything you'd want in a dessert! Ice-cream, hot chocolate sauce, coconut, banana, biscuit crumbs... I recommend it. I still don't know the etymology however; is it a translation of an Indian name or was it perhaps invented for a British royal occasion. Perhaps we'll never know.

Goa: Paniji and Old Goa

We arrived in Paniji in late afternoon, found a nice cheap room thanks to a young Swiss couple and then had a wander around the town. Paniji is the state capital and supposedly had lots of nice winding streets left over from when the Portugese were there, but we didn't really think it was up to much. Did have a very nice dinner though!

The next morning we set off early to Old goa, a 30 min bus ride away. Old goa now seems to consist of nothing more thatn about 8 large white churches, and was very pretty. Always wiling to take on a climb or walk in the midday sun we climbed to a church on a hill for a nice view over the town, where all you can see was the churches sticking out of all the palm trees. The bus ride there and back along the river was very pleasent, and the local buses the day before had been very easy, so we weren't to concerned about the night bus journey to Hampi that was facing us.

Finishing dinner about 6.55pm Tom looked at the ticket to see our seat numbers and realised that the ticket said the bus was at 7pm, not the 8pm we'd been told. A quick march to the travel agents office and we're told "Go quick, your bus is waiting on the bridge". A quick sprint to the bridge where the buses depart from and there's no bus. Eventually some one tells us that a bus is coming later. The 8pm bus then arrives and they accept our ticket that says 7pm, and we're not sure if we'll get chucked off 'cause we're not meant to be there. Cue stressing through a long argument a mad Swedish guy has with the ticket man, who turns out to have lost his ticket and claims the ticket man took it already (it was in the Swedish guys pocket all along). And cue stressing at every later stop the bus makes where a queue of people to big to fit on the bus, surely, materialises out of the darkness.

The bus was a mixture of sleeper like bunk compartments and reclining seats. Oh and our seats, which were just in front of the entrance to the bus so didn't really recline, though the ones in front certainly did. The road was windy and the engine laboured noisily most of the time, there was not room in the trunk for all the luggage so most had to be squeezed in under chairs and legs. It was also full of weirdo's including a guy who kept demanding toilet breaks, not long after the last one, which seemed more about getting nicotene in his system. When we were finally within 40km of our destination and we were very stiff and had hardly slept a wink we then stopped at a smelly overpriced service station for 45 mins before spending an hour in a trafic jam of lorries. We were exremely relieved when we got to Hampi and I vowed to get the train to Bangalore, now another sleeper bus as I'd considered. Tom in his infinite wisdom booked a 24hr sleeper bus back to Mumbai! (so okay her managed to get on a nice new volvo bus with AC, an option we were too late for before).

Goa: Anjuna and Vagator

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was a very different looking beach to Benaulim with rocky bays and not so good for swimming. There were lots of stalls offering the instant hippy/alternative kit with baggy trousers, mystic symbols and Che Guevara T-shirts galore. There were also dodgy gentlemen selling dodgy substances, but you'll be pleased to know I had nothing more dangerous than the local cashew Feni.

Me on Anjuna Beach

The crowd included quite a few younger people as well as some old hippy survivors. We expected a bit more atmosphere at night but it was kind of dead (it was Sunday and nearing the end of the main season) with most beach bars and restaurants empty and closing early. We did manage to stumble upon seafood buffet night at one restaurant, which was very nice, and busy for the duration. We met a Canadian guy and his German cousin who lived in Goa. The German one was a bit of a twat and made no effort at conversation. He also reminded me of Orlando Bloom, and his face needed a good slap in just the same way. Anyway, much the same feeling that it was a little bit dead there.


The next morning we packed up and walked to Vagator. The beaches there were very picturesque rocky coves, and we settled in a very nice place overlooking the main beach. It didn't seem that much different to the last place, except the shops now sold garish pieces of luminous plastic clothing for the raver crowd. In the afternoon we decided we'd relaxed enough and headed off for some culture to Paniji by local bus.

Goa: Benaulim

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Goa has a long stretch of coastline with various beaches, all with different character (package tourists, quiet, Hippies, Ravers). Since my train terminated at Madagaon late in the evening (it was 10pm by the time it got in) I'd decided to start at the nearby Benaulim and Colva beaches.

Unfortunately by the time I got there (after a ride on a motorbike taxi), the accommodation near the beach had all been taken. I was getting hot and tired and managed to find a hut near the beach just for one night before heading out for a very late dinner and a much-needed beer. The hut was fine but I was woken by some loud insect in the wall (but outside my mosquito net) and had a restless night with dreams of someone trying to break in. In the morning there was an unexpected intruder; a small puppy managed to force itself under the door, which was very cute once I'd established what the hell it was! I was up early before the next booking came and off to find new accommodation, before contacting Tom (who had decided to come travel with me for a week before heading back to London) who was arriving that evening.

Got a place right by the beach, and a very nice beach it was too. Sandy with nice waves for swimming and palm trees, going on as far as you could see in either direction and with not too many people. We wandered about, swam, read, ate seafood for a few days, relaxing after Mumbai, but on my third night the peacefulness became a bit too much. Many of the other people on the beach were families and groups of Indian men, hardly and similarly aged people. On the third night we went to the loudest sounding bar restaurant and realised that we were the youngest people there and had to listen to the house band next door drone through some 70s soft rock classics.

The next morning we set of for Anjuna. Full of old (and new) hippies and much livelier - Apparently.

Tom on Benaulim Beach

Leaving Mumbai

Well I kept quite busy in my last week in Mumbai going to lots of talks in the department and going out to dinner quite a lot with Costis, Tom (who happened to be visiting from Queen Mary at this time) and a Polish PhD student. No incident was quite as dramatic as the guy falling head-first down the stairs at Gokul (Mumbai's equivalent of Hasty and Tasty) last week and bleeding all over the place (I think he'd had a bit too much drink). I had some good Dosa and Pav Bhaji.

It felt a bit funny to be leaving Mumbai. Obviously there was what happened with Sarah, but also having not got any results out of my 4 months work in India, and having to more or less abandon it for 7 months. Anyway I boarded the day train to Goa last Friday early in the morning, for the first time I was in Sleeper class (cheaper/dodgier than 2AC or 3AC).

Here I'll put some photos of the accommodation etc in Mumbai. I now have them burnt onto CD, but am now on a computer whose CD drive doesn't work. Maybe I'll get one later today.

Update: here are photos of the room at TIFR and the Main Building.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Mumbai Again

I suspect now I'm traveling alone this blog will take on a different character. I'll probably write more with nobody else to say things too. Please tell me if I start going on about minutiae.

I've mentioned before how there's not much to do in Mumbai, but I decided to everything that was left yesterday. In the morning I decided to stop delaying the inevitable and get a hair cut. Unfortunately it's not quite what I hoped, but it was only 30p so what do you expect? After a falafel for lunch I then went to the (formerly) Prince of Wales Museum (easier to remember than the new Indian name). It was pretty good and just the right size, I realised that the caves at Elephanta would have been much nicer if they hadn't removed the nicest statues and put them in there! There was a painting of Glen Finnan, which did make me a touch homesick. (The first photo here is of the "Victoria Terminus" station).

I then walked to the Crawford Market, not that exciting, but sufficient to make it into the lonely planet's top sights of Mumbai section. I then walked on along the sea shore to Chowpatty beach, pausing to watch a bit of a cricket match and rest. Chowpatty beach is a nice enough beach (providing you don't go in the water) where the locals go to stroll around. There's some food stalls, men offering massages, kids fairground rides (human powered) and hawkers of various things. It was a bit hot when I got there so I walked on to see some more of the city and a former residence of Ghandi's, now a museum.

I'd already seen two of these former residence cum museums in Delhi, but this was quite a nice one: it's displays were not just reams and reams of text. I then went on to have a look at the Haji Ali mosque (see photo). This is reached by a walkway and only accessible at low tide. It was quite picturesque, but not much to look at inside apparently. I then walked back to Chowpatty beach for the sunset, via the hanging gardens, a fairly average park where the locals go to walk among an army of penguin shaped bins.

Dinner was a very un-Indian plate of Nachos (I'd eaten Indian all week!) and I walked most of the way home along the sea wall. I clocked up a lot of miles and my legs were quite sore as I wasn't used to it. I also wore my sandals which I wasn't used to, resulting is sore feet.

Being alone I noticed more of a tendency to look for interesting photos of the city and people, rather than just sights. Maybe it was a tendency to record things I saw to show to other people as there was no-one to show then? However, I then noticed a few moody looking lone westerners with styled hair searching out arty photos of the real India, and decided I didn't want to end up like them.

Well that's me finished with the sights here now. I leave early on Friday and I may enjoy a few of the city's eateries with some of the guys from the institute before then (did I mention the rats in the institute canteen?). I've also been taking advantage of the tv in my room which has about 10 live premiership matches over the weekend and HBO. I don't expect to be in rooms with tvs for a while after this week.

Ajanta and Ellora Caves

This trip will always be remembered as when Sarah and I broke up. I won't say anything more about it here; it's not that kind of blog. Suffice to say we didn't enjoy the caves as much as we would have, but we soldiered on through anyway.

I still don't have my photos available and I hope to add some in later (updated: Here they are!), so here's a few works to describe things. We got the overnight train inland to Aurangabad from Mumbai on Friday. It arrived at 5 in the morning so we found a hotel and had a few hours sleep. Next day we opted to go to Ellora first, which took around I hour on the local bus. The Ellora Caves are man made and covered in sculpture (quite similar to those at Elephanta but on a much grander scale). The largest temple is carved out of the rock and is many stories high and goes back tens and tens of meters. There around 30 caves, some Buddhist, some Hindu and some Jain. And it took 4 or 5 hours to see them all. The larger and more richly decorated ones really were spectacular, but to see properly you need to wait for some photos. The journey back was by far slower share-jeep, packed with around 15 people!

The next day was Ajanta, 3 hours from Aurangabad. Here the setting is much nicer with the caves carved into the side of a river gorge. The caves here are all Buddhist, and decorated with painting rather than sculpture. Only fragments of the painting have survived, but it must have been stunning when it was complete. The caves are kept very dark to protect the paintings with no flash photography. Definitely sights worth seeing.

Thursday, February 7, 2008


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In Mumbai I am working at TIFR, Mumbai is on a peninsula (a chain of islands with reclaimed land) and TIFR is right at the end on the western side, in the midst of the Navy Nagar area (home to the Navy) and near to Colaba, the main sort of travelers area.

I can't upload pictures to my computer here, and I'm also not allowed to take photos around the area (because of the Navy) so there are only a few I stole from the web here. Mumbai is much more modern and clean than where we were in the North, there are no cows wandering around the streets and it has many large impressive buildings from the time of the British. There actually isn't much to here apart from take in the architecture and visit the varied restaurants.

The one main tourist atraction is to take a boat from the gateway of India (see picture to Elephanta Island (1 hour). You get to see the harbour and on the island there are old cave temples with sculptures. Unfortunately the statues aren't well preserved but it was still a good trip. We did this the first weekend, and at a later weekend we ended up going to the cinema due to a lack of tourist sites.

While we were here Sarah got some work as a professional white person: appearing in adverts and a film as an extra and doing promotional work. Haven't seen the adverts on tv yet though.

Back in Gwalior

On leaving HRI I returned to Gwalior to stay at the Orphanage with Sarah for 4 or 5 days. Here is a photo Sarah took from the top of the main building of the playground and the huts where the children live. I didn't take any photos while here as it didn't seem right photographing the children, who I didn't know well.

I spent some time in with there classes and playing with them at their playtime in the afternoon, they were very sweet and enthusiastic but found I wasn't sure if I was more harm than good, often my presence causing commotion and disruption. There where lots of other volunteers there at the time, so trips to the hostpitals and schools were overcrowded so I didn't go, I'd have been no help anyway. I read quite a bit while I was here. On the last night there was a leaving meal for Sarah at a hotel in town. BK (the head of the charity) invited himself, which people didn't want he then organised transport home at an early hour and charged everyone for it. Lovely.

As I may have said before I found the orphanage materially better than I expect. The main problem seemed to be politics and corruption.

After leaving the Orphanage we got on a 24 hour train to Mumbai.