Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Pondicherry, India

Arriving into the usual India chaos I headed east, across the open sewer, where I knew "French town" was. I had no guest house booked but had notes on a few places from the internet and guide books. After getting the "full" response from 7 places a realised it was Friday, and Pondicherry is a favourite seaside resort of Chennai. Balls! Still getting "FULL FULL FULL" it was now getting late. Every "full" would lead me to a slightly more upmarket place.

Eventually I found Hotel De L'Orient. I later read about it in the Lonely planet, this is what they said;
 "This is as grand as it gets in Puducherry: a restored colonial mansion with rooms that appeal to your inner pith-helmeted aristocrat. Should you need a sense of columned regal importance, the hush of breezy verandas and the scurrying service of men in clean white uniforms, this is the place to book"
Arriving so late I was able to bargain their last "suite" down to a mere £40. 10 times more than I had been paying but i need these little luxurious punctuations in my travels (I told myself). They mentioned wearing a suit to dinner and I explained that I only had a sweaty t-shirt and shorts (i'd put my shirt and trousers in laundry) and all was fine. Dinner was lovely: garlic prawns to start, masala fish main and a cheeseboard for dessert! Man oh man, i miss good cheese. What i'd give for some thick cut cheese on toast right now. Dinner finished, i sat there on my own, watching the rich French couples dine and listening to crooning guitar man playing "lady in red" with a thick Indian accent. I decided to head back to the room and play about with long exposures.

The room, sorry, appartment was enormous. Basically four rooms. The bed area for sleeping, a desk area for writing things, a washroom for cleaning and a entrance hall with TV for accepting guests, should I have had any. All the furniture was intricate original or restored period furniture. To say it was overkill would be an understatement. Monsta had his own bed! I sat there thinking about why people would want this, i mean, sure it was lovely but at the end of the day surely you just need a bed and a bathroom? No?

Stole all the soap and wash items, had a delicious breakfast and checked out. Back on the streets where I literally bumped into a Canadian chap searching for a room, so we searched together. What we found is a world away from the hotel De l'Orient. Twin room for £2 a night. Ridiculous. Popped our bags in and decided on beer. Just checking out of the room next to us was a Kiwi girl and an American girl who we spent the afternoon drinking with. The drinking hole we chose, women didn't usually frequent so Sara and Kate, were celebrities. Everyone had their photo taken with us including a geeky Indian man in a t-shirt with "I like big jugs" emblazened across the front. Class.

French town Pondicherry is nice, but done in a day. The new town is the same as anywhere else in India. Next day me and Liam hired a moped and headed up the coast for a swim. Found a beautiful but scorching beach, no shade anywhere. Could only stay the morning for a swim then back and hid from the sunshine, only venturing out for some street food past dark.

Next day hoppped on a bus to the dreaded Chennai. Grabbed a dirt cheap room there next to the station and hopped on a train first thing in the morning. Next stop Sri Lanka!

Thursday, 23 February 2012


From getting off the bus at 7am i hated Chennai. A huge throbbing dirty traffic-roaring dusty polluted smelly monster metropolis. With no-one that actually wants to help you, unless there's money involved.
The lonely planet try and fluff it up but essentially there's no reason to come here apart from transit to other places, as it's well connected. 

A tuk-tuk driver takes me to an internet cafe and i wait for 2 hours for it to open. He keeps coming back past and speaking, trying to get me to go up into the central area to find an internet cafe that's open, and hoping to charge me 300 rupees for the pleasure. I decline 9 times before the non-talkative lady opens the "internet cafe" (room with 5 computers in it). I scurry in and try and find out where on earth the coach dumped me! Miles from anywhere. 

My reason for coming to Chennai is to get a visa for Sri Lanka. After finding out where the consulate is i flag a tuk-tuk and give him the address, and landmark! He seems to know where it is and after agreeing on 150 rupees (it's a long way and rush hour of course) we zip off. It takes ages. I start to realise that he has NO idea where he's going. Asking people along the way seems to get him no-where. Eventually, after speaking to some police, he stops and says "here" and rudely ushers me out. I say "where??" and he points to a big building then ushers me out again. I get out, annoyed at his vagueness and rudeness and head over to the building, which turns out to be the American embassy. Tuk-tuk drivers just went even lower down my Christmas card list. 
 To cut a long blog short, i walked for nearly an hour with my backpack in searing heat, asking people where the Sri Lanka consulate was. Eventually, down some hidden back roads, i located it. The tuk-tuk driver was miles away. 
 The rest of the day is spent waiting for the visa, which was successful (woop!) so i get ripped off by another tuk-tuk driver and head to the bus station, to find a hotel nearby. At this point i'm dripping with sweat, exhausted from not eating much and so infuriated with tuk-tuk drivers. I think Chennai broke me! 
I find a nice calm hotel and stay in the room, with a long shower, a chicken and olive pizza and a film. Bliss.

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Madurai to Chennai

Today in Madurai is all about getting to Chennai. Trying to get on a train last minute in India is near impossible. There are taktal (emergency) tickets for tourists but you should give them 24hours warning before attempting. I was pushing my luck with 8 hours notice. However, the station supervisor (at the time) was very sympathetic. I purchased a ticket and became number 1 in the waiting queue. Go back at 5pm and all should be fine.
Shocked, i left the station and headed for some food and a look at the HUGE temple here. Annoyed by touts everywhere around it. "come see the temple from high!" they say, and would try and lead you into their shop, which is 5 stories high and probably did have a great view from the top. Brushing all of these aside, and ever-persistent tuk-tuk drivers became a chore, and i sat back at the station in a quiet corner. Ahhh! 5pm came and i headed back to the supervisors office, there was now a different man on duty, who flat refused me on taktal.

Plan B was a flight. I called the airport and they quoted me 180 pounds for a last minute flight to Chennai. Whatever happened to cheap last second flights??

Plan C was the dreaded coach. Only dreaded from my last experience. At the coach station i scouted around for a single bed sleeper. They're mostly doubles, meaning if you're travelling alone you share with a complete stranger (they're extremely cosy) or nothing. You can't have a double for yourself, even if you pay for it. I eventually found a company that had a single bed coach spare, for a great price. I snapped it up and waited 3 hours for it to show up. I sat in one of  the very dingy (no women allowed) holes at the side of the bus station and had a beer, while all the time being observed by groups of Indian men.

The bus arrived. Very cosy little bed! Fell asleep instantly. I was woken up very loudly in Chennai, in the middle of nowhere and ushered off the bus. Looking around me there were sewers, motorways and dust. Great.  

Kodaikanal to Madurai

A beautifully scenic journey back down the mountain to the baking city. The bus has such gently bouncy suspension it rocked me into snoozeland for an hour before hitting the crazy Madurai bus terminal again.

Tuesday, 21 February 2012


Expecting a quiet hill station the bus roars into a typical Indian town 2km above sea level. You can see why the English retreated from the scorching southern cities to here in colonial times, it's lovely and fresh, and even cold at night. I ended up with quite a plush (compared to my Madurai prison) room for a nice price, overlooking the mountains, with thick blankets containing odd patterns and cheesy pictures of bears. Not much to say about the place itself. It's geared up for relaxing. Hired a bike and cycled around the lake, had a walk up to the observatory and around the back of the town, visited the small temple, had a look in the many chocolate and spice shops then sat about in the sunshine by the lake, watching the Indian tourists playing chess and trying to operate paddle boats that looked and sounded like they hadn't been maintained since the 80's.

The restaurants were very disappointing. All "multi-cuisine" but masters of none. I've had better curries on brick lane, seriously. I don't get the Indian love of Chinese food. It's everywhere, and is really quite bad.

You can see all of my Kodaikanal pictures here

Madurai to Kodaikanal

Sorry for the glut of posts today - this is the first time i've been able to spend any time on wi-fi in ages. There is NO wi-fi!! I've been writing all these posts offline then uploading to blogger when i have a chance. I'm finding myself splurging words out at the moment, which is the complete opposite of what i thought would happen!

The guards clanked their batons along the prison cell bars at 7am. I had a suprisingly good nights sleep. I have 5 new mosquito bites although I couldn't see any of the beasts in my standard pre-bed check. There's either one very fat mosquito hiding or an army invaded and left. I discharge myself for good behaviour and head for the bus station via a delicious street coffee-man. I needed to find the bus to Kodaikanal. If people knew they all sent me different directions, and they wanted money just for telling me. If they didn't know they sent me somewhere, wanting to be helpful, and asked for money. Not willing to give out cash and now fed up of asking people I speak to a policeman, who tells me to go to Arapalayam bus station about 5km down the road. I thank him gratefully and grab a tuk-tuk agreeing on 50 rupees with the driver before we leave. He agrees and we head out. Once there i hand over 50 and step out. "70 rupees" he says. "50 we agreed!" i said. "60 rupees" he said with his best smile. I just walked off, agitated already and it's not even 9am.

In Arapalayam bus station a million busses are coming and going, people eveywhere. I weave between the buses asking the drivers "Hello! Kokaikanal?". Eventually i find out where and when the bus leaves. I expect to see some westerners waiting as Kodaikanal is 100% on the tourist trail. I guess they're all going by private bus or taxi. This crate costs me 91p, for a 125km, 2.5 hour journey! I get on the bus and store my bag as the rest of the world gets on after me.

A seven year old boy called Karthick sits next to me, and front/behind sit his sister, 2 cousins, mother, father, uncle and aunt. They're on a family trip to their favourite temple in the mountains. Their English is amazing, i can't speak a word of Tamil! It's impossible to learn even the simplest words in India With 1500 languages those words are bound to be different when you get around the corner. The family are incredibly curious of me and i recieve the Spanish inquisition. They don't come across many westerners. The daughters are shocked that i'm not married. They take my photo and I sign various bits of paper for everyone. I get their signatures also, and wish my camera wasn't in my bag behind a forest of legs. I hand out stickers and fail at trying to explain skiing. Karthick draws me a picture of his made-up super hero (Gilob.G).

We reach the temple and they head off "BYE BYE BYE BYE BYE BYE..." until out of sight. Such lovely people. New people get on the bus for the remaining hour up the mountains. The man in front has such a cough i'm sure he's going to die before we get there.

Monday, 20 February 2012

Madurai (part1)

I arrive out of the station at midnight and need to find accomodation. I'm heading to Kodaikanal first thing tomorrow so any room will do. I shall be back to explore Madurai in a few days.

I come across a few places i recognise from the lonely planet, but they're out of my budget. I stumble across this large block on a dark backstreet, it says "Madurai residences". The young man behind the counter says he has rooms for 300 rupees (£4) so i agree. I wait for him to ask for passport, fill out name and to pay. I try and explain that this is what i want to do but he does the Indian head-shake and hands me the key. Seems unusual but ok. I've got nothing to lose. I head to the room on the 4th floor, it reminds me of a prison. All concrete, dark, with windows from the room to the balcony. Men in wifebeaters are watching TV in some rooms i pass. Opening the door reveals my cell. It's just a bed (clean sheets but no blankets), a TV and a hole-in-the-ground toilet. The walls are a faded snot green colour. I do nothing but get into my sleeping bag and sleep.

I'm woken up by the phone at 1:30am. An irate man says "come reception now, come reception". I head down and a different, older man (possibly the owner) starts going off at me about my name, passport and money. I didn't argue, just entered my details and paid. I said sorry, patted him on the back and he smiled back "no problem sir". He needs to re-train his staff!

Thiruvananthapuram to Madurai

I arrived at the impressive colonial station For my first long haul train trip. I was a little early so did some local watching and drunk some chai. Various kids observed me, laughing to each other. Some came over to practice their English "how are you?" and would run off when asked in return. A grinning man came out of nowhere, shook my hand and said "welcome to India sir!" then walked off. The tracks are covered in litter and have a whiff of urine about them due to the train toilets emptying direct onto the tracks!

I'd booked into an AC 2 tier. These are air conditioned sleeper cabins, two bunks high. Four in one window (coming out from the window) then the other two running alongside the other window, with a passage in-between. In the daytime the bottom beds can converted to a seat, but it's yours to do what you want with. The top bunks have no window and would be an issue if disabled or clausterophobic! The aircon vents blow directly onto the top bunks but there are blankets, pillows and a sick bag provided! All bunks in the AC classes have curtains and are very comfortable. Even the regular sleeper 3 tier class is comfortable, if a little sticky and noisy. Only the bottom bunks have power sockets, although my UK adaptor kept falling out of it as the train was moving. Three Indian men, bemused by my tiny laptop, engineered a fine solution with a combination of gaffa tape and wedging the wire. If you have four things definite on your packing list make it gaffa tape and three Indian men.

The train left promptly at 16:20 and passed through many cute little villages, children waving at the train, litter fires burning at the side of the track. At Nagercoil Junction the train halted for an age. I later realised that the engine had moved around to the other end and we were pulling out of the station reverse. As the train set off I wished i'd grabbed a chai from a chaiwalla. Now heading east the scenery changes from steamy palms to lumpy hills and lakes. A town called Aralvaymoli looks fantastic as the sun sets.

It's now dark, the Indian men are loudly discussing chappathi's with the chappathi seller. I close the curtain and lie down in my cosy little area, smirking at how many times the word "chappathi" has been said in the last 20 minutes.

Sunday, 19 February 2012


There are no hostels in Thiruvananthapuram. I go by the lonely planet recomendation and head to the YMCA. It's very central and quite cheap. There's a special wing for international "guests" aside from the huge dorm's for local underprivileged youths. It's a single room, very clean, YMCA branded bedsheets and soap, TV, en-suite. All lovely, but not a dorm. this is going to be another me, myself and I.

I head out into the city, excited to be in real India again. Triv. is prettier than other Indian cities i've been to. it feels cleaner and I can't see or smell open sewers. It's quite easy to find all tourist attractions, there's the stunning sripadmanbha swami temple in the south with the Palayam Juma Masjid mosque, christchurch, the stunning library, two stadiums and the zoological gardens in the north: all on the MG road. The zoological gardens also have an art gallery. The gardens themselves are lovely. Such an shady oasis under the trees away from the tooting traffic and baking sunshine. A quiet place to sit on the grass is an extremely rare thing. I miss those lush green parks of summer England!

There's a fantastic array or food everywhere, but most of the places that serve it are quite daunting. Full of locals ripping and scooping food with their right hands. Eveyone stares at you when you walk in. The waiters seem shy about coming over but bring you some tap water (which you'll never drink) and a menu. The menu's are very familiar to any English person worth their tumeric. Madras, naan, chappathi, dosa, biryani etc. But what to have for breakfast? I ask what someone else was eating and end up with a tasty veg. masala and chappathi with some tea.

Communist Russia is alive here! The hammer and sickle is everywhere on flags, walls and buildings. There is a very close relationship between Russia and India, there's even a "communist party of India". There are huge numbers of Russian tourists that come here every week and filter out to places like Kerala and Goa. There's also various music and art schools from Russia here, all fully occupied. Quite bizarre on first sight.

Saturday, 18 February 2012

Varkala to Thiruvananthapuram

After Sherin Cottage and Shiva garden trying to entrepreneur rupees from me over the 10% deposit i'd paid i say goodbye and good riddance to the Americans, Germans and English of Varkala and get a tuk-tuk to the station. The grunting metal monster of a train rolls in as soon as i arrive and i board. There's no-where to sit, and only a few spaces to stand: next to the non-existent door! You really feel like you're travelling when crammed into a train, half-pushed out while it noisily clacks along. Love it. No more tourists or people trying to sell you trinkets, just genuine locals who stare, but smile if you smile at them. This is only a 50 minute journey along the stunning palm-lined steamy backwaters of Kerala. As the train pulls into the station i'm squeezed off before the train even comes to a halt. Imagine this happening on the 7:30pm London to Bristol!?

Follow my progress on this map

Friday, 17 February 2012


Said goodbye to my Dutch saviour and arrived to an unsurprising issue with the hostel i'd booked. Seems someone wanted to stay an extra night so they obviously had priority. Go figure. The owner did have a friend with a room spare though (also unsurprisingly). He leads me to the seafront, right on the cliff and opens the door to the room. Basic... very basic! "300 a night" (£4) he says. "you want?" It has a double bed, desk, mosquito net, en-suite and a tree growing through it. What else do you need! £4 a night is ridiculously cheap for a private room next to the sea, even in India. I take the room. The ceiling is fabric with what looks like tarpaulin behind it. I can just see sky where the tree pokes out of the roof! I make a base with the mosquito net. Laptop. phone. kindle. earplugs. check. I'm so tired from the crazy journey before that i decide to get an early night and climb into my base. The mosquitoes hungrily hover around me. I mock them.

Varkala is a breathtaking place. Crashing warm waves (with dangerous rips), a long sandy beach surrounded by cliffs with shops, restaurants and accommodation on top. My morning routine is 7am beach for a swim and jog then back up the cliff for "muesli fruit", coffee and a delicious apple, watermelon and ginger juice. These are definitely the best few hours of the day. The only people on the beach at 7am are yoga enthusiasts, fishermen, some ex-pats swimming and worshippers. This is a very holy beach and Hindu's come from everywhere to pray and scatter the ashes of their dead in the sea.

I couldn't hold concentration in a beginner Hatha yoga class due the rather large American chap to the front-side of me, most amusing. I think yoga should be a private thing, classes are too distracting, or maybe that's just me.
 I had an Ayurveda massage. These are everywhere here, and are designed to be relaxing using natural herbs and oils. Mine was performed by a slightly odd but insightful Indian man who told me that I have "busy knees" and informed me of bad digestion. I found it hard to relax here also as he was panting  heavily whilst oiling me up ready for the massage. Some Indian mantra in the background would've been nice!

Most people here are secreting natural beauty. The green tea, fresh fish, sunshine, sea, yoga, meditation and alcohol restriction diet can do wonders i'd say. Some of the expensive resorts have 7 to 30 day programs to "enrich your life". I can't take the super-slow pace any more (and locals asking if you want taxi, food, drink, souvenir, massage, yoga etc.) so hire a moped, spending the rest of my time here exploring back roads, temples and towns around the resorts, occasionally dipping back to jump in the sea :) ahhh!

I'm not sure i'd recommend Varkala to another backpacker, it's absolutely beautiful but there's no dorm's, everyone's a couple and/or in a happy ali-baba trouser wearing trance. Which is fine, but not for me.

Next stop Thiruvananthapuran

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Anjuna to Varkala

I'm currently reading "the worst journey in the world" but Scott didn't have anything on my epic 30 hour journey from Anjuna to Varkala!

Put a reclining seat in a giant fridge and get an enemy to violently shake the chair for 20 hours, occasionally tipping you out of it. This was my coach journey from Panaji to Cochin. The aircon was permanently on (and couldn't be turned off) so i wore all my clothes. The roads are SO bad on this journey I thought my brain was going to ooze from my ears. About 8 hours into the journey i began to get severe stomach cramps, I could feel something trying to escape, and this wasn't a gas. I thought about sleeping but decided I might not have as much bottom control so powered on with a bottle of water and music for company. Don't sleep... don't sleep... don't sleep...

The bus stopped violently, it jolted me awake and my bottom ejected liquid. I sat bolt upright expecting a smell to engulf the coach. A slight waft but nothing too bad, this was good. It was 4am, with 6 hours to go. Everyone was sleeping. I decided to sit it out. I suddenly feel dizzy, and start sweating lots. I don't know what happened then. I woke up not knowing where i was for a second, but the dizziness and sweating had stopped.

On reaching Cochin the coach dropped us at the coach station, which i'm still convinced is someone's back garden. I begin a hunt for a toilet, so i can at least get changed before the 3.5 hour train journey to Varkala. Sanitation in India is not particularly widespread, even here in a city. People look at me like i'm crazy when i ask for a toilet. After about an hour a tuk-tuk driver can see i'm obviously distressed, still with cramps and asks if i'm ok. I ask where he would go to the toilet, and he points me off down a road and gives me the name of a hotel. "You can use. Just buy tea" he said. I distribute the little reserve energy i have and head off quickly in the searing heat. The hotel is more of a curry house with some rooms attached. I head in, order a tea and head to the toilet. I won't go into detail but fresh pants can cheer you up wonderfully.

After paying tourist prices  for a tuk-tuk to the train station (i wasn't in the mood for haggling) i grab a bottle of water and lie down in the shade on the platform, still feeling ropey and exhausted. My saviour comes in the form of a very kind Dutch backpacker who's also getting the train to Varkala. She keeps me company, taking my mind off events. She makes me drink some warm pepsi and tries to get me to eat something. Feeling ill on your own in a unknown place is daunting. We board the train and head to the coast. The train journey is beautiful. I feel better already.

Sunday, 12 February 2012


Spend a day on the beach with a Parisian i met in the dorm and a German girl that he'd met on the way into Anjuna. This basically involved them getting great tans and me keeping up English traditions by turning into a lobster. I don't think the suntan lotion i bought in India was any good.

A sunset beach party cranked up next to us. Organised by Goa hippies who looked like they'd been there since the 60s, they played some extremely loud hardhouse and trance. We sank a few beers and joined the revelry. Dancing with the great unwashed until 10pm when the police shut the party down! There's currently a ban on partying and the sale of alcohol past 11pm. This, with the nearby elections, is about to be quashed.

Friday, 10 February 2012


Me and a Spanish lady (Iris) arrive in Goa after 14 hours on a semi-sleeper coach with a lunatic (normal) Indian driver weaving around, driving on the wrong side of the road, tailgating, even running people off the road (then being stopped by the police). If you're a nervous passenger, or like your sleep i recommend you don't get a coach in India. Book a train, but make sure you book everything at least a week in advance. The seats go quick. Recommended sites are cleartrip.com for trains/flights, and redbus.in for coaches. If you book via a secondary travel agency, a shop or dude on the street you can end up paying twice as much as booking direct.

We arrive into Panaji. The capital of Goa. Its Portuguese history is everywhere. Noticeably Christian after being in Mumbai. We head for the first place we can find, the Bhakra lodge. Bhakra (as i learnt not an hour ago) is Hindi for India. Not an amazing lodge (no wi-fi!) but somewhere to sleep. So after a trip to old Goa (stunning) and a beer i hit the sack. Travelling overnight sounds great on paper, you save on accommodation costs, and get to where you're going for the morning, but if you can't sleep on the journey it can be a long night.

Next day we head North via Baga beach. This beach is row after row of sizzling tourists, mostly Russian. Everyone is asking taxi, sun bed, umbrella, tuk-tuk! NO NO NO NO! You can't escape. I highly recommend you avoid. We leave the beach as quick as we'd entered it, and head further north by local bus to Anjuna. They contain no westerners, cost 10 rupees and have bags of character. I've read good things about Anjuna, and the Silver Moon hostel. The beach is mostly rocky, there are just locals, hippies, backpackers and dogs here. The cafĂ©'s and bars play "classic" Goa trance non-stop it seems, assuming that's what people want to listen to. The hostel is basic but clean. What can you expect for £5 a night! With that, and moped hire for £3 a day, dinner and beer for £4 a day it's seriously cheap, so i book in for 3 days.

8am. Crisp, smoky morning air on the moped ride to meet a boat. Once there we realise it's me, Iris, two extremely well-travelled Ukrainians and 3 Russians. We board the boat for a 6 hour excursion including snorkelling, fishing, dolphin spotting and a BBQ on the beach. After a 1 hour ride we fail on the fishing and snorkelling (underwater visibility was 1 metre!) but we did see some dolphins catching their breakfast. We get to the BBQ beach, which is full or Russians, and tuck into some spicy Goan fish, chicken and rice. YUM. Never have the Spanish and English been so close, defending against the onslaught of mighty Russia. To say we were a minority is a dramatic understatement.

Back off the boat and in Baga i say goodbye to Iris. She heads down to Mysore on an overnight bus. I head back to the hostel and meet Krishna Gandhi (i kid you not). A Canadian born Hindu out here to meet family. He's also catching a bus later, so we grab a quick beer and exchange email addresses then part company. I head to a beach bar for sunset, munch a Jalfrezi, sink and beer and enjoy the wi-fi.

Monday, 6 February 2012


I have to recommend the hostel. The owner could be the most helpful person I've ever met. Letters of thanks cover a wall. Everything you ever want can be organised by Raj.

Today he took me and four others to a temple he's been worshipping at for two years. It's one hour out of the city in the hills. There are Baba's (Sadhu's) living here. They give up their lives to reach the next stage of holiness. Some even attend their own funeral (!?) We sit in the dusty front porch to his dwelling. Monkeys bounding on the roof and pictures of previous Baba's all around. He pulls out a paper wrap of Marijuana and loads a chillum. He wears orange robes, has long grey hair and smiling eyes. He pulls huge puffs of smoke down and slowly exhales clouds. I wish i could get my camera out at this point. He passes the chill-em over to us and we all take a drag. It's extremely smooth, like breathing fresh air. After 30 seconds everything relaxes. This seems like a nice life, living in the sunny mountains with the monkeys, smoking weed and drinking chai! I recall Raj's story of a childs grandmother being eaten by a cheetah here, three months back, and snap to reality.

After some exploring of a dry waterfall Raj calls us "come come". There's a lot of fuss and villagers run up to another Baba and begin to worship him. He walks through them, and down to the temple. They all follow in silent awe. "This Baba rarely comes" Raj explains, wide-eyed. It's a rare sight to see him.

Sunday, 5 February 2012


Me, Luke and Marlene decide to head to Mumbai central. Looks easy enough on a map. 10km on the train, no problems. We leave the hostel and head to the train station. Walking down the side of the crazy main road. It's 30 degrees and seriously smoggy. Asking along the way locals tell us the station is "just there". Further and further. "it's just there". Eventually we find the station, and learn that the trains aren't running because of mechanical failure. We spend the next 30 minutes trying to find out what bus goes to town (it's the 84). We find the stop only to find hoards waiting. The bus comes and the hoard enters the bus, hanging off anything they can. Plan C is a tuk-tuk. After finally flagging one there is an argument between the driver and furious locals, wondering why he would take tourists over them. Pretty obvious. Now we're on the way. That is until the driver informs us that he's not allowed into the centre and his friend will take us from there in a taxi. He seemed to want us to pay him the whole amount and he would split it with his friend later. We declined, for fear of being ripped off when we get into Mumbai. He stops at the side of the road and a taxi is waiting there. From here on locals gathered around and two policemen appeared to sort out the confusion as to who was going to take these rich westerners. In the end the policeman with a metal pole ushered the tuk-tuk driver away and we boarded the taxi, agreeing on 300 rupees. This took another hour, with the driver being extremely grumpy. I'm not sure what exactly happened but they may not be friends anymore.

The trains were running on the journey back. It took 45 minutes and 8 rupees!

Saturday, 4 February 2012


The high-rises, slums and rivers of tuk-tuk unfold 30 meters below me as the plane comes into land. It seems like the runway is never going to appear. More houses... cars... ah, there it is. I get off the plane and straight through security then out into searing (compared to -10 in the UK) heat. Immediately greeted by a smiling driver from the Anjali hostel i'm bundled into a car and we head off into the madness. This is culture shock at its greatest. Did i make the right choice coming to India first? Maybe i should've warmed up in South East Asia.

I cannot sleep sitting up, so had no sleep whatsoever on the flight over. I get to the hostel and start chatting to a tall, long-haired chap from Cornwall. He suggests going out, checking out a Hari Krishna temple. Why not! Seems pointless to sleep now. The hostel is 200m back from the main road. A dusty side street, a few kiosks, some dogs and laughing children. We exit the side street onto mayhem. A trillion tuk-tuk's, cars, people, animals, revving, talking, barking, beeping. BEEPING! The pollution is intoxicating and headache inducing but the whole scene is utterly fascinating. I often found myself staring:  "how on earth is this possible??" We get a tuk-tuk to the temple, the driver gleeful that he'd found some westerners to rip-off. Not in a bad way, he felt opportunity knock. Constantly haggling your price before, during and after becomes tiresome after a while but if you have a general idea of journey length a good estimate can be made, and stuck to. After the temple and a beach walk with the locals and their actual pet dogs we haggle back through the carnage to the hostel.

I woke up 13 hours later, head on kindle.

Friday, 3 February 2012

Goodbye England

The remnants of my Dalston room packed and shipped to Birmingham courtesy of Bishshat. This weeks packing was punctuated with trips to the theatre, cinema, galleries and some singing at White Hart lane. I now have no home, no car and no job. How liberating!

I now sit at Birmingham airport waiting for seat 44 on Emirates flight EK083 to arrive at gate 44 (it's 25 minutes late). My life for the next year rests next to me, squeezed into a 38 litre osprey rucksack. Birmingham airport is an incredibly civilised experience when compared to any London terminal although there is an alarming cardboard cut out projection lady welcoming you. A quick bag check by a friendly Brummie  about the liquids i have on me (i didn't check anything in) and i'm through. Despite the full English last supper mom cooked me two hours ago i get some "guess the flavour" crisps from WHSmith and paw greasy fingerprints over this laptop. I couldn't guess the flavour. Next stop Mumbai.