A Travellerspoint blog

November 2011

Mumbai - Dubai - Heathrow - Bristol

Welcome home

semi-overcast 13 °C
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The airport was surprisingly busy for 01:00 in the morning, with cars triple parked to drop passengers off at the international terminal. Rushing to get out of the car, I caught my foot in the door and fell flat on my face on the pavement. Fortunately my trousers are still intact, but my knee is grazed and so is my wrist. This goes with the missing skin on the knuckles (which has now becomes infected, swollen and rather red). What a state to get yourself into!

Quite unintentionally we ended up jumping the queue to enter the airport building, but it still took us over 20 minutes just to get through security into the terminal, with tickets being checked against your passports. If we had actually joined the end of the queue as we should have done (we didn't realise we were queue-jumping until we were nearly inside the building), it would have easily doubled that time. Another ten minutes queue to reach the check-in staff, then 20 minutes for the immigration queue, ready for the chaos at security! Ladies one side, men the other. Something went wrong with the conveyor belt and no luggage was going through, making a few passengers panic as their flights had been called. Eventually the belts start working again, but the system was rather flawed, and I didn't feel very comfortable with leaving my hand luggage unattended on the belt for other people to push through, while I fought my way back through those people still queuing to place their bags on the belt, in order to go through X-ray in another area and on for the frisking.

By this time David was through, and so were the bags, except my camera bag which had been 'quarantined'. When I answered negative to the question if I had a knife but explained there was a nail-file in there, they just sent it through again and seemed quite happy. I really don't understand how airport security works.

The peace and quiet at the gate seemed a life away from the bedlam outside.

The Emirates A380 is one very special plane, even in the days of jaded air travel. A double decker capable of holding 800 passengers, the upper deck has private suites, flat beds, spa showers and two cocktail lounges. We were downstairs in cattle class though, and not even allowed as much as a peek at how the other half flies.

With such a huge plane on two levels, disembarking is proving a little bit of a headache at all other airports except Dubai (where a special double-decker entrance gate has been created), and on arrival at Heathrow, they were trialling a new system which saw us standing for what seemed like an eternity at the bottom of the steps in a bitterly cold wind (at least it wasn't raining), before being bussed for 20 minutes half way around the entire airport area, through tunnels, across traffic lights and around building works before arriving at the terminal.

Unable to use the automatic biometric passport gate (unlike David) because the chip in my passport has a copy of my finger prints as well as my photo, I waited patiently for my turn at immigration, where I was provided with some excitement in the form of a black gentleman who obviously had a chip (and not a biometric one!) on his shoulders as large a a tree trunk, and when asked a very simple question about his passport by the official started ranting and raving “it's cuz I'm black innit?” before he was carted off by security after becoming very abusive.

One of our best discoveries in recent years, is the Airport Meet on Return service form Purple Parking where they deliver your car directly to the airport terminal when you arrive for you to drive off straight away. For the small extra fee, it is worth every penny and saves almost an hour on the journey time. It's our little bit of luxury when we travel.

Welcome back to England.

Posted by Grete Howard 01:30 Comments (1)

Goa to Mumbai

Goa, Goa, gone.

sunny 38 °C
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Having spent two weeks living exclusively on Indian food with no stomach problems whatsoever, ironically we found that eating Western food for a day in Goa gave us both runny diarrhea - just what we don't want for a long journey home.

The ever-helpful staff at Amarya Shamiyana kindly let us use the room until it was time to leave, and they all turned out to wave us goodbye.

Madesh managed to get lost for a last time trying to get out of Ashvem beach, but we had plenty of spare time to get to the airport for our domestic flight from Goa to Mumbai. Just as well. Having overtaken countless trucks, cars, cows, auto-rickshaws, buses and whatever else for the last two weeks, Madesh was stopped by the police on his very last journey with us - for overtaking on a bridge - and fined Rs 500/-.

The GoAir plane was late arriving at Goa, delaying our departure by half an hour. I think GoAir is India's answer to Ryan Air - a cheap, no-frills airline with absolutely no legroom and the only food offered was a Pot Noodle. At a cost of course. Half way through the 50 minute flight the pilot announced that there was a problem at Mumbai Airport - they were trying to re-calibrate the landing equipment (have they tried rebooting?), so we ended up circling (along with numerous other planes) over the Mumbai skyline and the Arabian Sea for nearly 3/4 of an hour.

Finally back on the ground, the cases were ready and waiting when we reached the terminal building, and a man with the now very familiar 'Mrs Grete' sign was waiting to whisk us off to an airport hotel for a few hours rest before the next part of the journey.

We grabbed a bite to eat in the café, where the bored waiter was desperate for someone to talk to, in-between coughing up half his lungs and probably even some of his stomach lining, spitting it out loudly just around the corner in the direction of the kitchen.

Posted by Grete Howard 00:40 Archived in India Comments (0)

Goa

Beach bellies and chocolate overload.

sunny 38 °C
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It seemed a good idea to finish with some chill time at a luxury resort on a beautiful beach, but by lunchtime we'd confirmed what we knew all along – we are not beach people. What on earth do people do on a beach all day?

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We'd walked to the shops, bought some post cards, walked along the whole length of the beach, taken several photos, watched other tourists strut their somewhat ample bodies around in rather skimpy swimwear (and not just on the beach, also in the restaurants, shops and along the road, which to me is totally inappropriate in a conservative country like India), we'd had a beer and some snacks, written all said post cards, and it was still only lunchtime. Back to the luxury of our tent, the most comfortable bed we've ever had in India, and an afternoon siesta.

My legs are in a bit of a state, covered in bruises from the rafting and bites from my own stupidity (not putting insect repellent on until it was too late at sunset last night), and they are now itching like mad.

In the afternoon we met up with Madesh (our very cute driver) quite by accident, and for the first time since he picked us up at Bangalore Airport some ten days ago, we actually had a (sort of) conversation with him. Up until now, most of his conversation has been limited to 'yes maam', but today he was very chatty. His English is extremely limited and pronunciation leaves a lot to be desired (still way better than my Hindi!), but we managed to ascertain that he is 25 years old (a mere babe in arms, but an extremely good driver for his age) and got married to his sweetheart two months ago who he'd known for five years and been in love with for four. He proudly showed us her photo, and she was suitably attractive.

Amarya Shamiyana is located next to the reputed best French restaurant in Goa, but unfortunately it was still closed last night (it is right at the start of the season here in Goa). We were told this morning, however, that it would be open tonight, so we immediately got the hotel to book us a table. I did feel rather special when we walked in to the restaurant (which was completely full by 20:00) to be greeted by the manageress: “Grete yes?” Fame at last!

The food lived up to my expectations, the rare tuna in sesame seeds and soy sauce with wasabi mash was to die for, but the crowning glory was the dessert. I have never seen anything like it! Named 'Chocolate Thali', it was a typical Indian thali style metal plate with several small bowls containing a selection of no less than nine different chocolate desserts: chocolate mousse, hot chocolate fondant, chocolate crisps, white chocolate soup, a creamy chocolate drink, chocolate cake, chocolate covered almonds, chocolate ice cream and chocolate covered strawberries. Talk about chocolate overload! I'd had a craving for chocolate for a few days, and I've certainly satisfied that craving for months to come!

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Posted by Grete Howard 22:04 Archived in India Comments (0)

Dandeli to Goa

The best birthday ever?

sunny 32 °C
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I was awake at 05:00, sitting on the veranda watching the jungle come to life (no sunrise this morning) - the mist over the water, the birds waking up with their various early morning calls, the frog chorus, the drops from the morning dew falling like bullets on the large leaves of the teak trees, the cacophony of the hornbills as they fly low over the water in twos and threes, the fish eagle (probably the same one as yesterday) landing on the branch just outside our tree house to do his early morning preening, huge white butterflies fluttering elegantly and peacefully amongst the foliage, the colourful river fish jumping out of the water to catch a tasty morsel of an unsuspecting fly. And of course the ever present roar of the rapids. Can life get any better than this?

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Yes it can. After a strong black coffee, one of the naturalist guides took us for a two-hour bird watching walk through the jungle, pointing out the sunbirds, drongos, bee eaters, bulbuls and various other birds along the way, as well as the monkeys and flying squirrels. The only downside to the walk was that the lodge's two dogs decided to come along for the fun, but got into a bit of a scrap with one of the local dogs, which then turned nasty as they went for the jugular. Using my trekking pole, we finally managed to break them up, but not before the pole got rather bent and out of shape.

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After my favourite breakfast of masala dosa and mango juice (the chef is very obliging, and the food just kept coming and coming – scrambled eggs, toast and marmalade, omelette, more dosas, rice – anything you could possibly want was available); the guide paddled us along the river in search of more birds. At the small island in the middle of the river, we de-boated and made our way, scrambling across huge boulders, to a small
rockpool with a natural jacuzzi. Heavenly!

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We were told the journey to Goa would take around three hours, but they hadn't counted on Madesh getting hopelessly lost. To be fair, he did ask directions, again and again and again, but after an hour and a half of driving back and forth, up and down, my patience was wearing a little thin when we finally spotted the sign for Amarya Shamiyana, our home for the next two nights. And what a home it is! Huge air-conditioned tents in their own secluded area with a veranda; sandy front yard; plenty of seating (two settees, a bean bag and a writing desk inside; a table and chair and two deck chairs in the yard, two sunbeds and a table and chairs on the covered veranda); super king sized bed, shower and toilet. And service to match the price tag. Nothing is too much trouble. Madam wants Bacardi Breezers? We'll go out and buy some. Anything else madam wants? Just ask. Oh, and I was presented with a large bunch of red roses on arrival, as a certain travel agent had told them it was my birthday.

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After watching the somewhat disappointing sunset over Ashvem beach – said to be one of Goa's best beaches – we settled down in the privacy of
our suite and made the most of the butler service, with drinks, snacks and later a romantic candle-lit dinner.

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Posted by Grete Howard 20:01 Archived in India Comments (0)

Dandeli Wildlife Park

Rapids, rodents and relaxation.

sunny 23 °C
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One of the benefits of staying in a tree house with only three walls, is being able to see the sunrise without getting out of bed. More pale and interesting rather than dramatic and colourful, it was still worth waking up for.

Sometimes the best decisions are made on a whim; until we arrived yesterday and were offered some activities for this morning, we hadn't even considered white water rafting. Kali River is a very popular place for rafting, and three lads in our boat had driven 400 kilometres from Hyderabad this morning (setting off at 03:00) just for the fun of it for a few hours, before driving back!

After a few safety instructions, we headed for our first rapid, which was also the steepest. We certainly got a lot of upper body exercise with the paddling, and the knee muscles from getting down into the raft when hitting the rapids and back up again as soon as we reach the bottom. The river ends in a dam some kilometres downstream, and once or twice a month they let some water out, making the water level drop dramatically and rendering the rapids unraftable. Having noticed the sudden water level drop, we had to get a move on to beat the clock.

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Between each set of rapids, were stretches of calm water, where we were able to relax a little and enjoy the scenery – watching the Brahmeny Kites, cormorants, darters and very rare fish eagle; the latter making the guide very excited. Apparently there are crocodiles in the river, but no rafters have ever been eaten. Yet. Now they tell us! A 12-year old boy was killed a couple of years ago, but that was 'by accident'. OK. They later found his body, minus one hand, so assumed the crocodile hadn't killed for food, but because he'd been disturbed.

The hotel manager assured us we'd get wet, and he wasn't joking! Water splashed over the raft in each of the rapids, and in the last one, we went back for seconds and thirds, letting the turbulence push us back into the
rapid, with the water gushing over us, completely engulfing the raft and filling it with water. Although a reasonably safe and extremely fun thing to do in an inflatable raft, this activity has claimed the life of more than one kayaker in the past.

We were amazed to find that the tissues I'd placed inside a zip-lock bag and put in my trouser pocket, were still completely dry after all this soaking. Such great inventions zip lock bags, although no match for the rodent who'd somehow found my supply of Bombay mix in my luggage back at the tree house, making a huge mess in the process.

Although dripping wet, we soon dried off on the back of the pick up for the hour return drive to the lodge. The wind and the dust doesn't do a great deal for your hair style though.

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We were greeted with the message that the hot water was ready for us to freshen up before lunch, and I have to say I'm impressed with not just the heat of the water, but also the water pressure and the flushing toilet half way up a tree.

A very leisurely afternoon was spent on our veranda, watching a large troupe of black langur monkeys move through the resort. Apparently it is quite unusual for the langurs to be around this area, partly because of the dogs (who were nowhere to be seen this afternoon), and partly because they are so weary of humans. Feeding on berries and leaves, the mothers would pick up their babies and jump from branch to branch, swinging by their tails, picking nits from each other's backs. They provided hours of amusement.

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I never thought I'd be going to bed in the Indian jungle wearing jeans and a fleece, and covered with three blankets. I was determined not to be cold tonight!

Posted by Grete Howard 19:23 Archived in India Comments (0)

Badami to Dandeli

More steps to be taken

semi-overcast 23 °C
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Badami - the last of the cave temples on this trip! Yippie! There are four cave temples here, all hewn out of sand stone in the late 6th and 7th centuries on the precipice of a hill. The four cave temples represent the secular nature of rulers then, with tolerance and a religious following that inclines towards Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism.

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These were nowhere as commercialised as the others we have been to on this trip, but they were quite special. 236 steps up, and the same number down again, before driving across the small town, along some pretty interesting narrow lanes to one of the oldest temples in the region, Malegiti Shivalaya which is dedicated to Lord Shiva. The temple is constructed out of stone on the summit of a rocky hill within the ruins of a huge fort. The 7th century fort encompasses a large granary, an underground chamber which must have served as a treasury or private audience hall, double fortification walls and many other architectural marvels. The 326 steps to the top snaked their way thrown steep, narrow gorges not unlike the siq at Petra. This place was truly magical and quickly became one of the main highlights of the trip for me. There was something so peaceful, mystical and adventurous about this place, with the deep chasms and crevices, fantastic views over the town with the sound of the dhobi wallahs (washer ladies) hitting the laundry against the steps of the water tank carrying all the way to the top.

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After 562 steps in the Indian heat, I was glad to sit down for a few hours in the air-conditioned car for the drive to Dandeli. Once we'd reached Dandeli town, it was a matter of finding our resort. Many other places advertised their resorts on huge posters along the side of the road, but not ours. If in doubt, ask someone. Then someone else. Then turn around and travel 30 kms in the opposite direction down winding country roads flanked both sides by hectares of teak forest, interspersed by huge fields of sugar cane. Finally we see the sign for Hornbill River Resort, and turn off the main road down a dirt track until we find the accommodation, spread over a gentle slope down towards the Kali River. Our room is the one nearest the river, perched some 30 feet up a tree! A large room overhanging the water, open to the elements (with pull down mosquito blinds), overlooking the rapids. Having a pre-dinner drink of local Indian rum, we sit and watch the hornbills soar over the river as dusk falls. Heaven.

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I did wonder if taking a night time jungle walk after two large rums was a good idea, but perhaps it gave me the extra confidence to walk along paths where I may otherwise have been concerned about taking steps not being able to see where I was placing my feet. The jungle was very dark and very quiet, save for the noise of the nocturnal animals. I didn't expect to see many large animals – although bison and barking deer do come here during the rainy season – but we did see some flying squirrels, various insects, spiders and lizards. On leaving the forest for the clearing, the guide carefully picked the leeches off our shoes and clothing.

I didn't expect the temperature to drop quite so dramatically at night – it must have been around 8 C overnight. We'd left the mosquito blinds up, so were open to the elements on one side overlooking the river. The two resident dogs keep any monkeys away, so all you have to worry about in the night is various insects. We did hear a gecko barking, but we never did see him. A couple of flying squirrels scuttled across our roof, and a spider and various other small insects dropped by in the night, but we saw surprisingly few mosquitoes.

Posted by Grete Howard 08:45 Archived in India Comments (2)

Hospet to Badami

Aihole and Pattadakal

sunny 34 °C
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Nothing disturbed my sleep last night – not the trains whistling every couple of hours, the wedding party, the renovation workers who were still hammering and sawing when I went to bed at 23:00, the super-noisy A\C, or the cars hooting all night! I slept through it all!

The road to Badami was mostly under construction, with miles and miles of road works and diversions. It'll be nice when it's finished. Along the way we stopped at a goat and sheep market, and later a vegetable market, before arriving at Aihole around lunchtime.

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Aihole was the first capital of the early Chalukyas, who built over 125 temples in various styles. Chaluhya was an Indian royal dynasty that ruled large parts of southern and central India between the 6th and the 12th centuries, and the ruined capital of Aihole dates back to the beginning of their rule.

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The temples are spread around a large area, with monuments dotted between houses, rocks and the gravel road, some of which are in use by the locals as meeting places or somewhere to dry their laundry. The main site was incredibly peaceful, with just us and a group of photography mad technical students from Bangalore on a weekend break. Not to forget the two-dozen grass-cutters of course – ladies crouching over the lawn clipping the tufts with knives. A lawnmower would have done the job in an hour, these ladies probably take three days or more. Maybe this is an idea for a job creation scheme for the British youth?

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You really have to have eyes in all directions on the roads in India, and fortunately for one young girl, Madesh does. Cycling on the left hand side of the road, she suddenly decided to veer across the road to the other side, without looking. With a screech of tires, the car came to an almost standstill before the impact, so no real harm was done. One very shaken girl, a little less rubber on our tires, a couple of small scratches in the paintwork, and a lot of shouting from the village elders.

In contrast to the tranquillity of Aihole, the nearby monuments of Pattadakal were pure pandemonium. When the Bollywood music wasn't blaring out at full volume, there appeared to be a local version of X-Factor, with a number of talentless wannabes belting out their renditions of some unknown number that sounded more like a pig being tortured than song. To add insult to injury, a group of pesky and persistent kids arrived, demanding pens, sweets and money, insisting on standing in front of the camera whenever I tried to photograph one of the monuments. Saying no, ignoring, shouting, smacking, and not even the Howard glare seemed to get rid of them, so when the official came along with his big stick and said a few choice words that made them run off at the speed of light, I could have kissed him! Those are the most irritating children we have come across on the entire trip; most have been curious but totally charming.

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The 8th century monuments at Pattadakal were designated a UNESCO Heritage Site status in 1987, and are better seen from a distance rather than close-up. Built from the softer sandstone, the carvings haven't fared as well over time as some others. I never thought I'd find myself being a carvings-snob!

We have now arrived in Badami – a scruffy hotel in a scruffy town.

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Posted by Grete Howard 03:44 Archived in India Comments (0)

Hampi

Boulders and bears.

sunny 37 °C
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The breakfast vouchers state that breakfast is served from 06:30 to 10:00 in the Temptations Restaurant, which is across the road but is closed for restoration. Continuing to the pool side restaurant (where we were redirected to last night), we find that closed too. Back in the main part of the hotel, we try the courtyard snack bar where a breakfast buffet is laid out, but are told that if we want eggs, we have to go upstairs. At the top of the steps it is unclear where to go, and one chap tells us to go one way, and another sends us in a different direction. The mezzanine floor has tables that are not laid, but a bain-marie in one corner which presumably has egg. Since the start of this holiday I have been trying to get masala dosa for breakfast, and according to the room service menu, this hotel does serve them and I order one. The whole breakfast scenario seems rather topsy turvy, as the eggs may be upstairs, but the juice, masala dosas, coffee and toast are downstairs. Wouldn't it have been easier to carry the eggs downstairs than all that upstairs? Anyway, the dosas were worth waiting for!

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Hampi has been on my wish list for quite some time now, and is one of the main reasons for this particular trip to India.

Hampi is an enormous site, spread out over an area of 30 sq/km with over 500 monuments dotted around the hills and valleys. Despite having read all about its size many times before leaving home, I still wasn't prepared for the sheer enormity of it. We decided to hire a guide this time, to take us through some of the most important monuments and give us a brief explanation about what we're seeing. It was certainly worth it!

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The site dates back to the 14th century, when it was the capital of the Vijayanagara Empire. Hampi is naturally fortified by the steep Rocky Mountains with massive boulders of granite in three directions, and the mighty Thungabadhadra River in the other direction. It was therefore the obvious choice as the capital of the kingdom, not only because of its location, but also for the huge supply of building materials. In its heyday, the empire covered the whole of South India as well as Sri Lanka, and Hampi had a population of half a million.

Hampi is a place where man and his money are easily and frequently parted. Apart from the obvious entrance fees, there is a camera charge, bakshees to the snake charmer, payment for photographs with the Sadhu, money to buy bananas for the temple elephant, tip the shoe-wallah to look after your footwear when you enter the temple, the cost of the battery operated buggy where cars aren't allowed to go, the guide of course, and so it goes on. Every few metres there is a beggar (each more deformed than the previous), a post card seller of someone trying to get you to buy trinkets, coconuts, maps or jewellery.

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Feeling a little Hampi'ed out, we decided to give another three hours of temples in the midday heat a miss, and head out of town for the afternoon, to Daroji Sloth Bear Sanctuary. After a few geographically misplaced moments (retracing our entire route back – but if we hadn't got lost I would never have seen the brick-making!), we finally found someone who knew where we should be going and later some road signs. It is estimated that 120 sloth bears are living in this sanctuary, as well many other wild animals and birds. The 143 steps to the look out tower were soon forgotten when the first two bears appeared. In total we saw 11 sloth bears, a couple of wild boars and lots of birds, and it was a really relaxing afternoon.

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Arriving back at the hotel, there were crowds everywhere for a very glamorous and lavish wedding. The groom arrived on a beautifully decorated white horse amid much pomp and circumstance with uniformed musicians and attendants wiping his brow to make sure he looked his best and didn't wilt under the strong spotlight for the hundreds of photos and videos being taken. I wonder how much sleep we'll get tonight?

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The laundry arrived much the same time as we did. I should have known better than send clothing made from crinkle material for washing, after exactly the same thing happened to two of my favourite shirts in Indonesia. They must have spent hours getting the 'creases' out, but of course have ruined the shirts in the process.

Posted by Grete Howard 08:17 Archived in India Comments (1)

Hassan to Hospet

The long and winding road.

sunny 32 °C
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Early start this morning for a very long day. It's not so much the distance involved (350 km), it's more the state of the road. Although road is perhaps being overly kind to describe the series of rocks, stones and gravel; loosely connected by the occasional piece of tarmac and more potholes ,that is shared by a number of varying road users at varying speeds. The wearing of seat belts is not compulsory, but makes you feel more confident; not so much to protect you in event of a high speed impact (High speed? Fat chance of that!), more to restrain you falling sideways if asleep when negotiating a particularly deep pothole (i'm referring to the passengers here, not the driver!).

At Halkurke village we stopped to take a look at a Dravidian temple being built – I can honestly say that this is the first time I have walked around a building site barefoot. Too busy looking down trying to avoid stepping on nails, gravel or worse, I totally missed the beam sticking out at eye level. Fortunately the four inch saw blade on the end missed my face, otherwise I could have had a very sore (saw) head!

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A little later, at the beautiful Ravanarajah village temple, we were invited in for a religious puja (blessing), amid a lot of bell-ringing, fire-carrying and water being poured into your cupped hand while your prayers were being heard. A small temple, there were four devotees, three self-appointed guides, us and the priest.

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Between bouts of snoozing, roadside bird watching kept us amused for a while – bulbuls, kingfishers, sunbirds, bee eaters, kites, drongos, plovers, egrets and storks – and at regular intervals we stopped to photograph various scenes.

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We finally arrived at the hotel in Hospet at 17:00, having set off at 08:30 this morning. If it was tiring for us – and we were able to take a nap as and when we felt like it – it must have been quite a day for Madesh, our young and handsome driver. He doesn't speak much English at all, but the moment he flashes that gorgeous smile, I am ready to forgive him anything.

Posted by Grete Howard 04:48 Archived in India Comments (0)

Halebid and Belur

Gems of the Hoysala Empire

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About an hour out of Hassan lies Halebid, the regal capital of the Hoysala Empire in the 12th century. The name Halebid literally means 'ruined city'. The complex comprises two Hindu and two Jain temples and is set in peaceful manicured grounds, a complete contrast to the hustle and bustle of the hawkers and beggars outside.

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The carvings are exquisite and cover almost every inch of the multifaceted building with different aspects of religious art. Elephants, gods, deities, monkeys, bulls, dancing girls and a giant Nandi sculpture – Shiva's bull vehicle.

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A little further along the road is Belur, with its seven storey gopuram (soaring pyramidal gateway tower) looming at the end of a busy street.
The temple was built in 1117 AD and took 103 years to complete. The façade of the temple is filled with intricate sculptures and friezes, some of which the guide book described as 'sensuous dancers' – not sure I would call their poses sensuous, although they were certainly buxom ladies.

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As we both have chest infections now (thanks for sharing yours David!), we decided against visiting the Jain site of Shravanabelagola this afternoon. We didn't think the 614 steps (equivalent to a 28-storey building) would be a good idea. It seems a shame to miss it out, but we really don't want to kill ourselves in the process. We decided to retire to the room instead, updating the blog and watching the fireworks. India is the only country I know of that sets of fireworks (and some of the most ferocious fire crackers I have ever heard) in broad daylight! If I hadn't known better, I would have thought I was in the centre of a battlefield as the pyrotechnics were right outside our hotel window!

Posted by Grete Howard 01:51 Archived in India Comments (0)

Aurangabad - Mumbai - Bangalore - Hassan

Manicures and auto-correct

sunny 30 °C
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An early start this morning, as the alarm went off at 05:00 for our full day of travel from Aurangabad to Bangalore via Mumbai by plane and onwards to Hassan by car. At Aurangabad airport I was stopped in security and asked about the nail file I was carrying. After some discussion and lots of head wiggling, both I and the nailfile were allowed through. I suppose they realised that me approaching the pilot and demanding that if he doesn't fly me to Cuba, I will carry out a manicure on him, wasn't really such a threat after all.

Landing in Mumbai is always an experience, as the flight path is directly above the slums – as featured in the Slumdog Millionaire film. The film has brought human scale to the shanty town for me, and I always find it humbling to see, being able to imagine what life must be like living hand to mouth in such squalor.

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At Bangalore airport, we couldn't see a driver with our name on a sign, until we worked out that Mr Great must be us. He showed us the text he'd received stating: 'Guest name Mr Great'. I guess that's what happens with auto-correct on your mobile phone!

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They drive on the left in India; unless of course there is more room or fewer potholes on the right. Cars share the roads with huge trucks displaying the words HORN PLEASE (as if Indian drivers need any encouragement on that matter); three wheeled auto rickshaws designed for two passengers but carrying a family of eight and all their worldly possessions; holy cows taking an afternoon siesta in the middle of the road; bicycles carrying enormous haystacks; stray dogs and playing kids; motorbikes for a family of four with mum ride side saddle; ox carts with enough sugar cane for a crate of rum; slow moving tractors... all weaving in and out, overtaking, turning and topping; all seemingly without any regard for other road users. Incidents that would have shaken me to the core back home and had me talking about the 'near miss' for days; cause little more than a raised eyebrow here.

I really struggled to stay awake on the four hour drive from Bangalore to Hassan (despite all the above, as well as a very ambitious road improvement program causing temporary surfaces to be uneven to say the least!). Sleep seems to have been a commodity that has been evading me on this trip – I have been wide awake at 02:30 every morning so far. Damn jetlag!

Along the side of the road there were cattle grazing; men urinating; farmers ploughing their fields in the time-old fashion with oxen; chilli, rice, sugar cane and cotton plantations; lots of cattle egrets and the odd grey heron, with Indian rollers and malachite kingfishers on the telegraph lines and Brahmany Kites circling above.

South Indian temples are a unique design, and even the smallest village shrine is elaborately carved and garishly painted. Every few minutes a temple would appear at the side of the road.

Once we arrived in the hotel, David went off to find some drinks (for the room – refreshment while I am typing my blog!), while I wandered around the grounds of the hotel with my camera. The porter immediately came up and gave me a guided tour of the estate – the large fruit bats in the trees, the peacocks, the flowers, the statues scattered around the lawns, the swimming pool, the personal introduction to the head gardener, and the up-close hands-on experience with the pet rabbits.

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Posted by Grete Howard 04:23 Archived in India Comments (1)

Ellora

The pinnacle of ancient Indian rock cut architecture

semi-overcast 34 °C
View Indian Caves and Temples Tour 2011 on Grete Howard's travel map.

Ellora Caves are considerably younger than Ajanta, a mere 1500 years old (babies in rock-carving terms) and contain not just Buddhist monuments, but also Hindu and Jain rock-cut temples and monasteries. I thought Ajanta was awesome yesterday – I wasn't prepared for the sheer grandeur and beauty of these caves. There are 34 caves in total, and although we didn't visit them all, we certainly left the best for last. In many of the caves we were only accompanied by bats and squirrels although we make friends with a large group of colourfully-dressed women from Rajasthan a little later on. By the penultimate temple we were both getting a little caved out, but when we first saw façade of Cave number 16, we knew we were in for a special treat. Despite having taken 189 trips abroad, to 132 countries, I can honestly say I have never seen anything like this in all my life.

It's amazing to think these carvings were carried out without the use of any mechanical help. The temple is built to represent Mount Kailasha, Shiva's Himalayan abode, and it is in fact the world's largest monolithic sculpture. Imagine a rock face, cut three trenches into it at the top, then build a temple complex from top to bottom, carving downwards in the hard rock with nothing more than a hammer and chisel. The detail, the engineering feat, the sheer scale of the project, the intricacy of it all - carved from one single piece of rock, belies belief. 7000 labourers took 150 years to complete this masterpiece, which covers twice the size of Parthenon in Greece and is half again as high. 200,000 tonnes of rock was removed from the complex, which has a courtyard around a central temple which was once painted white – again to represent the snow-capped Mount Kailasha (which is actually a real mountain in Tibet).

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Aurangabad is famous for its traditional Himroo woven silk and cotton materials, and we visited a workshop to see how the cloth is being made. The style was developed during the 14th century, and has been the city's chief revenue maker until fairly recently when beer and bikes took over!

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The name Daulatabad means 'city of fortune' and is said to be one of the world's best preserved forts of medieval times, dating back to the 12th century. The fort is surrounded by a 5-kilometre sturdy wall with a 40ft deep moat.

In 1328, the sultan Mohammed Tughlaq decided to shift his kingdom's capital here from Delhi, he even marched the entire population of Delhi 1100 kilometres south to populate it! Ironically, Daulatabad soon proved untenable as a capital for strategic reasons, and Tughlaq forced its weary inhabitants to walk all the way back to Delhi, which by then had been reduced to a ghost town.

It is certainly a formidable fort, with a series of defences including multiple doorways at odd angles with spike-studded doors to prevent elephant charges. More steps (I wish I'd counted all the steps we have climbed in the last few days as I am sure we are getting on for 500 now!) lead to the moat, which you cross on a rickety wooden bridge. You can then continue up the 200 metre high outcrop on the top of which the main fort sits, but we chose to return to ground level. Again we were the centre off attention for the locals, with numerous groups wanting their photo taken with us. One with each person in the group of course. After a dozen or more of such photos, my camera-smile was beginning to wear a little thin.

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Posted by Grete Howard 05:18 Archived in India Comments (0)

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