A Travellerspoint blog

India

Hampi

Boulders and bears.

sunny 37 °C
View Indian Caves and Temples Tour 2011 on Grete Howard's travel map.

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!

Masala_Dosa.jpg

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!

Hampi.jpg

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.

Lakshmi.jpg Sadhus.jpg Snake_Charmer.jpg

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.

Brick_Making.jpg

Sloth_Bears.jpg

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?

Wedding.jpg

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
View Indian Caves and Temples Tour 2011 on Grete Howard's travel map.

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!

Halkurke_Temple.jpg

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.

Puja.jpg

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.

large_Sunflowers.jpg

Cotton.jpgPloughing.jpgStorks.jpg

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

sunny
View Indian Caves and Temples Tour 2011 on Grete Howard's travel map.

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.

large_Halebid.jpg

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.

Nandi.jpg

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.

Belur_Gopuram.jpg Belur_-_Buxom_Lady.jpg

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
View Indian Caves and Temples Tour 2011 on Grete Howard's travel map.

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.

Slum.jpg

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!

Mr_Great.jpg

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.

sBats.jpgGarden_Seat.jpg

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).

Ellora_1.jpg

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!

Weaving.jpg

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.

Daulatabad.jpg

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

Ajanta

Monasteries and Mausoleums

sunny 36 °C
View Indian Caves and Temples Tour 2011 on Grete Howard's travel map.

The Ajanta Caves are 30 rock-cut Buddhist cave monuments that date back to the 2nd century BC. Pretty old. They contain paintings and sculptures considered to be masterpieces of Buddhist religious art and are well worth the two hour drive from Aurangabad.

The caves and their temples were abandoned in the 6th century AD for the nearby Ellora (which we are visiting tomorrow) and lay undiscovered until a British officer and his hunting party stumbled upon the entrance to cave number nine in 1819. You can still see the name of the officer (John Smith) inscribed in pencil on the walls, complete with the date he found the caves.

Ajanta_1.jpg

The 30 caves contain temples and monasteries and are thought to have been occupied by 200 monks in their heyday. They really are like something out of an Indiana Jones film – mysterious and exceptionally impressive. After yesterday's overload of religious deities, we decided not to take a guide today, but we did hire a 'facilitator', a man who was there to carry our bags up the many steps, look after our shoes when we entered the caves and give us a brief description of each of the monuments. He was well worth the money especially as he managed to help us bypass the 'Exit through the Shop'! I found the carvings and frescoes absolutely overwhelming, and quite humbling. The workmanship involved in such details is even more impressive when you consider they are over 2000 years old and have been carved our of the solid rock without the use of any modern equipment!

Ajanta_2.jpg

Rural India is in stark contrast to Mumbai and I was eager to photograph an ox cart on the road back to Aurangabad. Every time we saw one David would should “bullocks” and I would lean out of the window and try to capture it with the camera on the move. Eventually I asked the driver to stop, and I got out to do the job properly! One of the more interesting sights along the road was a huge boiler drum being transported – unfortunately it was higher than the telegraph wires, so every time the lines crossed the road, the pole wallah had to get off and hold up the wires with a long stick. Health and safety? I think not.

Bullock_Cart.jpg

Pole_Wallah.jpg

Bibi Ka Maqbara is known as the 'Poor Man's Taj' because it was originally planned to rival the Taj Mahal, but the funds didn't quite stretch to the same grandeur as the Taj. The name literally translates as 'Tomb of the Lady' and it was built by Aurangzeb's son Prince Azam Shah in the late 17th century as a loving tribute to his mother, Rabia Durrani.

Bibi_Ka_Maqbara.jpg

It seemed that this was THE place to come in the afternoon for local, and not so local, people. As the only westerners in the complex, we soon became popular photographic subjects. Every few minutes, groups of young lads or families with children would approach us and ask to have their photo taken with the two of us making it slow progress through the mausoleum.

New_Found_Friends.jpg

This afternoon we took an hour out of our busy sightseeing schedule to frolic in the enormous swimming pool, complete with a swim-through waterfall. The best part was that we had the pool entirely to ourselves.

Lemon_Tree_Pool.jpg

Posted by Grete Howard 04:27 Archived in India Comments (1)

Elephanta Island

Cave one of five.

sunny 36 °C
View Indian Caves and Temples Tour 2011 on Grete Howard's travel map.

A short car ride through relatively empty streets (it is Saturday morning after all), took us to the Gateway of India which was built to commemorate the visit of King George V and Queen Mary to Bombay in December 1911. One of the most recognisable landmarks of Mumbai, it is full of crowds day and night. The reason for our visit was twofold – first of all to see the Gateway, and secondly to catch a boat to Elephanta Island. Even at 09:00 the temperature was already heating up, unlike yesterday when the heat didn't really become oppressive until around 14:00. This doesn't bode well for the 120 steps to the caves on Elephanta Island.

India_Gate.jpg

The boat trip was just long enough for a snooze, and to be honest there wasn't much to see en route unless you are into oil rigs and offshore cargo docks. One mad rush signals the landing of the boat on the island, and everyone scrambles to catch the little train that takes you from the end of the pier to the bottom of the steps. To my relief, the steps were not only covered from the unforgiving sun by a blue tarpauling, they were interspersed with longish stretches of gentle slopes, with shopping opportunities aplenty both sides of the path.

The island is uninhabited apart from a troupe of aggressive monkeys who are expert thieves (as the lady behind us found out when her bag of picnic stuff disappeared up a tree quicker than you could say sandwich). Later a stand-off between monkey and human occurred, with a lot of hissing and growling – mostly by the monkey. I'm not sure who was most frightened, me or the monkey, but the final score was Grete one, monkey nil.

Monkey.jpg

There are seven caves in total on the island, although some are still unfinished. The caves contain some amazing Hindu religious carvings, including an enormous statue of the three headed Sadhashiva, representing Shiva as the Destroyer, Creator and Preserver of the Universe. They date from the 9th century and are now protected by UNESCO which is just as well, as bored Portuguese soldiers used to use the ancient carvings as target practice when they were stationed on the island, causing unforgivable damage. I have to confess that some of the mythological tales Serene was explaining to us went whoosh over my head.

Elephanta_Caves.jpg

Back in the city we headed to the famous and infamous Leopold café. Famous because it has been a Mumbai institution since 1871, and infamous because it was targeted by the terrorists during their bombing of Mumbai in 2008. Fortunately the atrocities appear not to have put the patrons off, as the café was full to bursting; it is said that everyone who visits Mumbai ends up here at some stage during their stay.

On reading the complimentary paper in the hotel room yesterday morning, we had a little bit of a flap on as the headline stated that 130 pilots had walked out on the beleaguered Kingfisher Airlines after they cancelled 36% of their flights. Gulp. Our onward flight is – you guessed it – with Kingfisher! Reception kindly checked on the flight for us and it all appeared OK. Phew. Later in the day we had a text from Sabu (of Icon India tours who arranged our whole trip) to say the flight times had changed and was now an hour earlier. No problem, and later we managed to check in on line using my new dongle! We arrived at the airport with plenty of time to spare, but almost ended up boarding the wrong flight as we were too busy chatting to some new found friends who were travelling to Ahmedabad rather than Aurangabad. We just heard the 'bad bit at the end, and joined the queue. Wrong bad.

Indian bureaucracy is alive and well in the airports too, or is it just a job creation scheme? They thoroughly check your tickets and passport before you are even allowed to enter the terminal building, then again at check in obviously. At security your boarding card is checked and duly stamped (woman and men enter different areas), and the officers at the X-ray stamp the airline luggage labels for each and every item of hand luggage. At the gate your boarding card is scanned and before you get on the transfer bus they ensure your labels are correctly stamped. If not, you go back with your carry-on to the security area while everyone else waits on the, as happened to a Canadian lady on the flight. Boarding cards are again checked before you enter the plane.

Indians may be good at red tape, but they also excel at hospitality – greeting us at reception in the Aurangabad hotel with the words: “Miss Grete?” before we even opened our mouths.

Posted by Grete Howard 08:41 Archived in India Comments (0)

Mumbai meddling.

Building blocks of bureaucracy.

sunny 35 °C
View Indian Caves and Temples Tour 2011 on Grete Howard's travel map.

As we parted company with the driver last night, he asked us what time we wanted to start today. We should have known that if we said 09:00, in India time that would mean 09:45. Serena (our local guide) took us all around the sights of Mumbai, starting with St Thomas Cathedral. St Thomas was the first apostle to India. The cathedral was begun in 1676, but after the death of the governor who started the project, it was abandoned and neglected for 40 years. In 1710, the East India Company chaplain adopted the church and it was finally opened as the first Anglican church in Mumbai, on Christmas Day in 1718. The cathedral was given the essential cannon-ball-proof roof and was originally divided into sections for different classes of society, including one for 'inferior women'. The interior looks much the same today as it did in the 18th century, whitewashed and furnished with polished brass, wood and stained glass windows. The walls are lined with ornate memorials to British parishioners, many of whom died young of disease or in battle. The church is currently under renovation, but you can still see the splendour of the building and all it represents.

St_Thomas_Cathedral.jpg

A lot of the day was spent sitting in traffic jams, carrying out drive-by shootings (photographically speaking) of such historic and architecturally rich buildings such as the University Campus, Mumbai Big Ben, the Railway Station and Town Hall.

Mumbai_University_1-2.jpg Mumbai_Arc..ure_1-4.jpgChhatrapat..nus_1-1.jpg

The island of Bombay which was a Portuguese possession became part of the dowry of the Portuguese princess Infanta Catherine of Braganza on her marriage to Charles II of England under the Anglo-Portuguese treaty of 1661. In 1668 King Charles transferred it to the East India Company for a loan of £50,000 at 6% interest. That would have been an awful lot of money in those days, and shows you how rich and powerful the East India Company was.

An outdoor laundry may seem like an unlikely tourist attraction, but the rows and rows of similar coloured cloths hanging to dry above washing vats is a photographer's delight. Mahalaxmi Dhobi Ghats are known as the world's largest outdoor laundry, with 200 dhobi families working together, collecting dirty laundry, washing it (removing stubborn stains in boiling vats of caustic soda), drying it on long, brightly coloured lines and using heavy wood-burning irons for pressing.

Dhobi_Ghats.jpg

One of the highlight for me today was the fascinating Ghandi Museum. Mani Bavan is a modest two storey building, but is famous as a result of Gandhi spending 17 years here from 1917 to 1934. The building belonged to his friend, and in 1955 it was declared a memorial to Gandhiji. It has now been turned into a museum, highlighting the various stages of this great man's life with miniature dioramas and period photographs.

Gandhi_Museum.jpg

After lunch we took our shoes off to visit the most beautiful Jain temple in town. Babu Amichand Panalal Adishwarji Jain Temple is not a name that exactly flows off the tongue, but it is said to be the most beautiful Jain Temple in Mumbai. The peace-loving Jains (they take great pains to avoid killing even tiny insects) believe in self-restraint and aestheticism, but they plough large sums of money into the construction and maintenance of their places of worship. They also do a fair amount of charity work, and as we were leaving, we saw a long queue of people waiting for some kind of medical treatment from the temple.

Jain_Temple_Grete.jpg

The Hanging Gardens of Mumbai bear no resemblance to their namesake in Babylon, they are just pleasant terraced gardens, created on top of the town's water tank. A Fire Temple and Zoroastrian Towers of Silence are located nearby (Mumbai has the world's largest Parsee population), where the bodies of the deceased are placed to be picked clean by vultures as is their tradition. In order to prevent the city's water reservoir from being polluted by the bones and remains of the recently departed, a cover was built and gardens created.
Hanging_Gardens_1-8.jpg

In order to be able to easily update this blog on a regular basis, I decided to buy a dongle in Mumbai. After trying at least four shops, we finally found a store that sold the Tata Photon Plus, which came recommended and did indeed seem like a good bet. Actually purchasing one was going to prove rather difficult and full of Indian bureaucracy at its best. I expected to be able to pop in the shop, part with my money, have a short explanation of what to do, and walk out again. Oh no. There is a form to fill in. Fair enough. At this stage, however, you need your passport and visa, which of course were back in the hotel safe. Having retrieved these, we return to the store to pick up our purchase. Oh no. You need to give them a photocopy of the documents. In colour. The security guy on the door is beginning to know us by now. Ten minutes later, with some very good photocopies of the ID, we go back to see the same attractive sales assistant and start completing the form. Two lines later, she asks for my passport photo. What passport photo? “Anything else you need” we ask before we go off again, this time to find someone who can do us some instant pictures. Our question is met by the typical Indian head wiggle, which we took to mean no. By now I am beginning to think this is not an electronics store, but more likely a job creation scheme. Form duly completed, photocopies of the passport and visa, and a passport photo attached to the form – surely that dongle is mine now? Not quite. Fortunately I knew the answer to the next question (what's the address and telephone number of your hotel), but was initially stumped by the following request: “name and details of your contact in Mumbai”. What contact? The day was saved by me remembering the business card Serena had given me earlier in the day. I hope she doesn't mind being our 'representative'. Hopefully she will never know...

Another 3/4 hour goes by while the sales assistant makes several phone calls (often on two phones at the same time), a lot of consulting her colleagues and even more head wiggling. There is a problem with activating the phone. Oh. She also seems to be serving at least three other people at the same time, and the chap next to her is also trying to sort our activation out at the same time as serving a couple of other people. Talk about multi-tasking! All is well that ends well, and after four visits to the store and nearly an hour of form filling, head wiggling and phone calls, I am the proud owner of a dongle. It had better be worth it!

After the obligatory visit to the cottage industries craft shop, our last stop of the day is to sock up on medicines, most of which are only available on a private prescription in the UK. £20 of Indian tablets and creams would easily have set us back £150 in the UK. One of the beauties of staying in a hotel next to the city's main hospital.

Posted by Grete Howard 06:26 Archived in India Comments (0)

Mumbai fish and Bombay duck

Where life isn't always a picnic

sunny 36 °C
View Indian Caves and Temples Tour 2011 on Grete Howard's travel map.

In stark contrast to the bureaucracy surrounding the visa process, immigration in Mumbai was a breeze. Another stamp in the passport, another tourist arrives, another addition to the ever-growing arrivals-form mountain. I wonder what really happens to all those forms – they sure don't read them properly, as I know mine was completed incorrectly but nothing was mentioned.

The airport is full of warning signs about not accepting the offers from touts for taxi rides, cheap hotels or shopping, so we were very pleased to be greeted by a driver with a cheeky smile and a sign bearing the word: Mrs Grete. I didn't, however, actually see any touts, so maybe the campaign has worked and the warning signs have put them out of business.

Mumbai is an onslaught on all your senses – the first thing that hits you is the heat as you emerge from the airconditoned cocoon of the airport. Then the noise, the bustle, the pollution, the poverty, the never-ending traffic. Life in Mumbai appears to be lived on the streets, right down to the family of five who had spread out their blanket and were enjoying a luscious picnic with their tiffin boxes and bundles of bread. Not on the pavement, not on the grass verge, but on the streetside of the parked cars.

Having met through a travel website (Virtual Tourist), Aadil and I have been virtual friends for a number of years, before today finally meeting up in Mumbai, where Aadil lives and works. Heading out to a restaurant for something to eat, Aadil insisted we stayed well back on the pavement while he hailed a cab – with tourists in tow, the price of the taxi immediately trebles.

The Indian coast is known for its seafood, and as we are travelling inland next, Mumbai seemed to be the best place to try some of the delights of the ocean. Guided by Aadil, we ordered the local king fish, prawn biriyani and Bombay Duck – which isn't duck at all of course, it's a long, thin fish called bombil. We surprised the waiter by asking if we could have it spicy – apparently 99% of tourist want their food very mild when they order. David got quite excited at the prospect of some draught beer, so we were rather amused to be served two cans of Kingfisher Draught. Oh well, it was welcome all the same.
Bombay_Duck_1-1.jpg

After a long flight, a night without much sleep, the delights of the common cold, the heat of the city and a couple of beers, it was time to head for an early night.

Posted by Grete Howard 05:05 Archived in India Comments (1)

(Entries 49 - 57 of 57) Previous « Page 1 2 3 4 [5]