Category Archives: India

Bollywood dance classes. 8th Oct 2016

After a long day sight seeing in the heat theres nothing nicer than to come home to a Bollywood Dance class on the roof of your Hotel.

There were three choices on offer.

1    Bollywood dance class.

2   Bollywood Cinema.

3   Do Bugger all.

The more energetic (I’m trying to avoid using the term younger element) chose the dance classes and Jaki put her name down for this too as she really didn’t want to sit in a Cinema for 3 hours watching  a film where boy meets girl, falls in love, wicked Uncle tries to sabotage plans, love conquers all, happy ending.

Its too much like our story.

I was clearly not in the running for dance classes due to age and infirmity (or as my mate Kev would say. “What, with these feet”?) so I volunteered to be the number one camera man on set.

However our plan went astray when the phone call to Lloyds bank took 100 minutes rather than the ten we’d expected. So by the time we arrived on the roof the rehearsals were well underway and the cast were looking suitably sweaty.

they did a fantastic job of learning this 8 move routine and the end result can be seen on my YouTube site.

Watching them brought tears to my eyes.

Tom out of step, Calum with his tongue hanging out, Luke looking more like a footballer than a dancer. The girls seemed to do OK though.

The Hotel had stocked up a fridge with bottled beers and given us the key so we could help ourselves and pay later which was just as well cause it was thirsty work.

We returned to the roof later that evening where we gave Emily a birthday cake and had a few more beers. At 10 our shirts arrived from the Tailors.

Tom looked particularly dashing in his multi coloured shirt which was just tight enough to show off those big beefy bicep’s.

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Tom lost at cards so forfeit was pencilled eyebrows all day.

We had a quick fashion show for the group who made all the right noises and told us just how cool we looked (and if we didn’t, we didn’t seem to care).

This mad I Larf which is why its Number 2 on my list

 

 

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The great banking crisis. 8th October 2016

Last time it happened we were in Sydney at the start of our trip up the East Coast of Oz.

We went to a cashpoint (ATM) put the card in, entered the Pin and got bombed out.

We spent the subsequent weekend with no cash. Just like Royalty.

On the Monday we phoned home and after a very long phone call we got the cards reinstated and everything worked fine after that.

Before  setting out on this trip we notified Lloyds bank that we were going away and completed the relevant section on line. So we were pretty confident the problems of 2013 wouldn’t be repeated.

How wrong we were.

My first trip to an ATM in Jaipur failed to deliver any cash but as the system is slightly different I wasn’t too concerned though after 4 attempts I realised something wasn’t quite right.

Each cash point has a uniformed guard so it feels quite safe.

However, that evening I used the same card in a Restaurant and it went through OK.

The next day I tried an ATM again this time with Jaki riding shotgun to make sure I did it right. Duh!

However, even with Jaki’s superior brain power and 10 years experience in Financial Services we came away empty handed.

The last day in Jaipur we visited  a textile factory where we watched them printing designs  by hand using wood cut printing block’s. Mr Wedlock take note, if Keith gets a whiff of this your employed for life. Afterwards we were shown a range of Scarves, Pyjamas and Bedding which they had for sale and our group purchased almost everything in the warehouse.

Jaki bought some stuff for Georgia’s Christmas present which we had shipped home and I had a shirt made in Indian style (Kurta). I also bought a pair of trousers (off the peg) to go with it. This was delivered to our hotel at 10 pm that evening so from measure to delivery about 6 hours.

We did some hard bargaining on the price whilst the salesman continued to try to encourage us to buy more. Eventually the total bill including 5000 Rupees shipping was 26000 Rupees. Suddenly we realised just how much we’d spent.

Fortunately there was still some wiggle room and we got the total down to 22500 which with hind sight was still way over budget but by now we were committed.

So, I tried to pay using one of my card’s, which was declined.

Jaki then tried her card, which was declined.

They then produced a different cash machine and miraculously my original card worked this time.

Result.

Back at the Hotel Jaki decided to tackle Lloyds so made a call to them using my mobile phone. It didn’t go well.

There are some security questions you have to answer (so not only do you have to know your date of Birth, address, passwords, account number etc) like, what was the last amount you spent on you card at Tesco in January 1947 or something just as daft.

It was at this point Lloyds told us that an amount of 22500 Rupees had been taken from Jaki’s account which was strange because I had a receipt fro 22500 Rupees drawn against my account. It appears we’d now payed for these Items twice.

By this time I could tell Jaki’s patients was running a bit thin and she was giving the poor guy a hard time. He in exchange was keeping her hanging on for long periods in stoney silence whilst he ‘did things’ on his computer.

So after 74 minutes on the phone Jaki’s cards were un-blocked) even though we were assured they hadn’t been blocked in the first place. To resolve the double payment issue we had to go back to the textile shop and get them to fax through some information to Lloyds.

Jaki did explain that they may not have a Fax machine, the information may be in Hindi and there was a 9 day holiday starting the following morning. But Lloyds very helpfully insisted this was the only way to deal with the situation!

Then it was my turn.

I was asked how much I’d spent at ‘Cabot’ on a certain date?

I didn’t even know what ‘Cabot’ was till Jaki explained.

So I was given a multi choice security question instead ;

Did I once live at:-

18 Frm Gv or 47 The Brk  or 175 Chr Rd

I chose Chr Rd which was correct!

We went through the same routine as before with Lloyds assuring us they hadn’t blocked the card but then offering to un-block it just in case?

At the end we had been on the phone for over 100 minutes and at £1.80 per minute that was nearly fifty quid!

They assured me they would pick up the tab and offered an additional £25 compensation if I dropped the complaint against them.

One complaint?

I thought there were at least three?

The proof of this particular pudding was whether the cards would now work in an ATM, and fortunately they did.

So, if i understand  the situation correctly and often I dont;

We notified Lloyds that we would be in India and would be using our cards.

They didn’t block them but mysteriously they wouldn’t work.

They un-blocked them (even though they weren’t blocked) and then they did work.

They paid the same amount twice (for goods purchased) on two separate cards at the same time for the same amount to the same person but couldn’t cancel one of the payments.

Dose that sum it up?

After over 30 years with lloyds were gonna change banks when we get home!

 

 

 

 

Palace of the wind. Jaipur

PALACE OF THE WIND.

We visited this place which is supposed to be a Photo opportunity but it seemed to lack something.

It also made us targets for every tout trying to sell Tat.

However, the history behind it is interesting not least because it was built to hide the modesty of the Queen (or Indian Equivalent) who sat behind the screens and watched the peasant’s go about their business without exposing herself.

It was also cool up there (hence the name) as it was designed to catch the breeze.

The building is just a Facade there is almost nothing behind it, the back was apparently hung with sheets so it was dark inside making it easier for the queen to see out but harder for people to see in.

It’s probably not the high point of my trip but others may disagree?

However, I include it as context for our tour of Jaipur.

 

Top Ten activities. India

 

I made a list of my top ten activities of the last week.

I hope I can record most of them accurately in my blog.

So, here is the list.;
1 Rickshaw ride
2 Bollywood dance class
3 Taj
4 Romi
5 Food
6 Camping
7 People
8 Jaipur
9 Chai
10  Cycle Safari

So, in that order.

Rickshaw ride . Jaipur.

We were walking around Jaipur after having visited Hawa Mahal Museum.

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Walking through Jaipur

It started to rain so we took shelter under a shop canopy (well a sheet of Tarpaulin tied to some trees) to let the worst of it pass.

It was very hot and sticky so Romi organised a fleet of Cycle rickshaws to take us back to the Bus.

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Jaipur traffic

There was a stampede of Rickshaw drivers all fighting to get us on board their particular vehicle, none of which looked particularly road worthy and weren’t very comfortable to ride in.

Most of the drivers (pedaler) were skinny little guys who didn’t look like they had enough muscle to move the bike and two huge Europeans and as it turned out, they weren’t.

These bike’s have no gears, so getting moving from a standing start is a bit tricky when your only 6 stone dripping wet. The drivers often had to resort to getting off and pushing and in the mayhem that is Jaipur Traffic, thats no mean fete.

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All equal setting off.
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Shelter from the rain
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Victoria and Zoe
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Aric photographing me photographing him.

Once we got going it was like being in a video game. There was total bedlam with cars and bikes swirling around us, horns honking at us and the diesel fumes made your eye water.
In amongst this, other commuters would pull along side us and want to start a conversation. 
“Hello, where you from”. Was quite common, as was “Indian Helicopter” which we think referred to their motor scooter though no one seems sure.

Tuk-Tuk drivers laughed at us and seemed to find it great fun to see a fleet of Rickshaws loaded with European tourists negotiating the traffic jams.

We were all taking photos furiously but the road surface wasn’t conducive to still photograph due to the Pot holes and rubble that makes up the city streets, so we all took to video which doesn’t really portray the sheer terror of the ride.

NB: Ive put this on You tube so you can take a look. Hope this link works???

We started to splinter as the fitter drivers raced on ahead and the older less able drivers lapsed further and further behind.
When we eventually regrouped I was exhausted from being thrown around but mainly from laughing so much.

It was the best fun you can have with your clothes on which is why it is my Number one activity.

5th October 2016

5th October 2016

This morning we set off on our way to Fatehpur Sikri.

We ate Breakfast (food is becoming the corner stone of our days. No sooner have we finished one meal than Romi is organising the next) and boarded the coach for what was to become an eventful road trip.

Not quite Thelma and Louise or Easy Rider but not without its moments either.

Our driver seemed to be in a particularly belligerent mood this morning refusing to yield an inch in the testosterone world that is driving in India. Trained at the Harry Potter Night bus school of driving he manages to get our 8 foot bus down a 5 foot road full of  on coming traffic without turning the wheel. Awesome.

So we had a few near head on collisions though these are becoming so regular they are almost beyond mention. We hit a rather large Bullock (they look like water Buffalo but seem to live on the main roads. in fact most of the animal husbandry we’ve seen takes place in the town’s where Cows have developed a ‘Bugger You’ attitude and if they decide to sit down in the middle of the road, well you just have to go round them) with the side of the coach and almost ran over a lady who tried to cross without bothering to look for traffic. Her ever vigilant friend grabbed her arm and yanked her to safety like a regular Super Hero.

NB: Ive taken some video which I will put on You tube and link later.

We cruised down dual carriageways at top speed (60 is the limit for any vehicle licensed by the ministry of Tourism) whilst other drivers came toward us at equal speed, oblivious of the fact that they were traveling the wrong way up a Motorway!

N:B Since I wrote this our Coach driver has also  turned right and driven against the traffic up a dual carriage way rather than go with the flow, because it was a shorter route.

Our driver constantly poured small sachets of some thing into his mouth whilst he drove, talked on his mobile phone using his right hand and held a bottle of water in his left. All without turning his head. He did though put his seat belt on as we approached a police check point though this Health and Safety glitch was short lived.

We arrived at Fatehpur Sikri and parked the coach in a dusty car park with dozens of other coaches.

Fatehpur Sikri is a small city in northern India, just west of Agra, founded by a 16th-century Mughal emperor. Red sandstone buildings cluster at its center. Buland Darwaza gate is the entrance to Jama Masjid mosque. Nearby is the marble Tomb of Salim Chishti. Diwan-E-Khas hall has a carved central pillar. Jodha Bais Palace is a mix of Hindu and Mughal styles, next to the 5-story Panch Mahal that overlooks the site.

We then had to run the gauntlet of ‘young entrepreneurs’ all wanting to sell us tacky trinkets or get us to visit their shop before getting onto another bus for the 200 meter ride to the main gate.

Apparently these smaller busses are run from LPG and are environmentally more friendly than our bus so, it does less damage to the environment around Fatehpur Sikri which is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

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There’s a perverse irony in this that seems to be missed by Indian Officialdom. Given the state of everything else around the site, the debris, the litter and the poverty, is an LPG bus going to change much?

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Once free from the bus which was filled to breaking point with sweaty tourist we were met by out latest guide who regurgitated a whole load of facts and statistics about the history of this place as he showed us from one Palace (Mahal) to another. Delighting in his obvious knowledge and expertise.

My imagination only came alight when he told us that the ‘Swastika’ so reviled in Europe because of its association with Nazism was in fact a Hindu sign and it was engraved into the design of the Main Pillar which in itself represented one religion.

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NB: Since then we have seen this sign on buildings and vehicles regularly. I want to know how & why it was adopted by Hitler and used by the Nazi’s?

There was he said, a King who realised ‘With his own eyes’ that his people were fighting over religion. So, as a way of uniting his people he married three wives, one from each of the competing religions (though there was some confusion about how Christianity got involved as this came up from Goa).

Then, to add insult to injury, he invented a fourth religion which he then promoted.

So, if Ive got this right. His solution to religious conflict was to introduce a fourth religion?

The probably explains why were still fighting over religion today.

The tour dragged on for longer than it needed to and I lost interest and wanted to get back on the bus with the air-con long before it was polite to say so.

In fact, any thing would be an anti climax after the Taj.
Retracing our route we were met by our friendly Touts who tried to get us to go to their shop, sell us anything from Jewellery, Fans and all manner of Pens, Wooden Animals and Bindies. Some of our group melted under the sales pressure of these cute kids whose waxed and waned between aggressive & tearful. They continued to promote their wares through the window of the bus with some success before we finally set off on the next part of our Journey.

We stopped at an eatery which we were told is miles from anywhere so everything has to be brought from Agra by road, which means its expensive.

I couldn’t face another meal and settled for Chai the Indian Milky Tea with Cardamon that I am coming to enjoy. 

The waiters in the restaurant all seems to suffer from the same lapse of memory because they kept forgetting to return with change after people settled their respective bills.

This had Romi running round like a Football agent sorting out our finances.

Another short trip brought us to Chand Baori a Step Well where we marvelled at the number of steps leading down to the water at the bottom.

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I bought roasted Peanuts in their shells from a street stall and we looked at yet another shrine.
These shrines obviously revered by their believers often seem to me to be rather unpleasant spaces. The habit of leaving food for the Gods creates an environment loved by flies as the food rots and it looks and smells, to western eyes at least, very un godly. Im not sure Reverent Sue at the C of E in Frampton would approve of leaving a Fish Lot on the Alter?

As we left , it started to rain and that continued for the rest of the day and most of the night.

The last part of our journey took us off road and down a path which really didn’t look sufficient for our Bus though our driver didn’t bat an eye lid.

He cruised on down like it was the M4 dodging Cattle and trucks with consummate ease.

When we arrived at Jamwa Ram Garh Campsite we were completely in awe.

This collection of Glamping tents was tucked behind a small cluster of farm buildings housing a few families and their animals. From the road it looked an unlikely spot for  a Glamping site but looks can be deceiving.

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Behind some ornate domed building’s that were referred to as Synagogues (Though i could not establish any Jewish connections) there was a fantastic swimming pool with changing rooms and shower,a dinning room equipped with a small Bar and a row of canvass tents that were as luxurious and comfortable as any Hotel so far.

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Allocated a Tent we found our suitcases and settled in. Keen to get in the pool, rain or no rain and have a welcomed swim. Clutching a can of Kingfisher (and in Jaki’s case a bottle of India Wine) we stayed submerged until it was time to eat.

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inside-our-tent

Food was again a vegetarian option but it was tasty, well presented and there was loads of it, as with the beer which seemed to keep coming.

 

It was a pity when tiredness overcame me and I had to slope off to bed rather than stay there for ever, but the morning promised an early morning Cycle Safari and i needed to be at my best.

 

 

Taj Mahal. 4th October 2016

Taj Mahal.
4th October 2016

We were up at 0500hrs to get to the Taj Mahal before sun rise.

Bleary eyed we slumped in our seat’s as the bus trundled through the deserted streets arriving at the West Gate (there are three entrances) in near total darkness.

As we made our way through the manicured gardens, just visible in the gloom the first call to prayer sounded appropriately enchanting, like a musical score written for exactly that moment.

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Early morning prayers
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Walking from bus pre dawn

We met our new guide whilst Romi went off to buy the tickets.

We were ushered into lines, women in one row, men in the other, separated by a rail of rusting scaffold poles that left its liver coloured marking’s on our clothe’s and skin as we brushed against it. Reminiscent of the queueing lines at Disney we stood patiently waiting for the gates to open.

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Queueing at the gates

India’s love of bureaucracy, procedures and form filling wasn’t going to miss a captive audience and our ticket, so recently purchased now had to be checked by a guy who clipped it, leaving a ‘Hanging Chad’ ( GW Bush) as evidence that we were entitled to be in the queue.

Not satisfied with that, another guy quickly followed up, checking that the ticket had a suitable Hanging Chad and then he stamped the ticket with a rubber ring which he wore on his middle finger. This he regularly loaded with fresh red ink from a pad, clutched in his other hand.

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Stamping the ticket

Finally, a third guy checked that the Hanging Chad was in place, that the red stamp was in order and gave each ticket a secret tear in a critical position, thus signifying the authenticity of our entry rights.

Utterly Brilliant and completely wasted.

India, to it’s credit doesn’t look to reduce manpower when ever possible. It doesn’t introduce system’s and procedures designed specifically to cut the work force, unlike the West where that is the great money saving tool.

Here they actively promote over employment. They create positions for no other reason than to give some one a job. They don’t have one person doing a job if they can get six to do it, thus creating employment for thousands of people, putting money into the hands of ordinary people and creating taxes.

Our special Taj Mahal guide is ex military, employed several days a month to explain the history of the Taj to visitors in a monotone delivery that has very little punctuation and almost no passion.

Our bus driver has a conductor who sits perched on the left hand side of the cab. his role is to put the step down when the bus stops, so we, the passengers can step down safely.

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Our bus driver

This means there are three Indian staff on the bus with us, Romi, the driver (who wears and invisible neck brace which stops him looking left or right at major road junctions) and the conductor.

And Transport for London (TFL) wants ‘driver only’ trains?

At long last the huge wooden studded gates were pulled back and we were allowed to proceed, to the security check. Full body scan, frisk and search of any bags or camera cases.

However, once we went through the next set of gates we could see the the Taj like a ghost in the morning mist. All the inconveniences disappeared as the spectacle of marble and sunlight become clear.

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First view of Taj

 

It was truly amazing.

Our early start meant there were almost no other people around and we could pose for photographs in the most sought after spots with ease.

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Admiring the view

We spent a few hours walking round, looking at the Taj from different angle even going inside to see the tomb at its centre but nothing compared to that first vision, reflected in the water of the ponds.

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Stunningly Beautiful

It was and in some respects had to be an anti-climax after the ‘gob smacking’ first encounter.

As the heat of the day intensified more of our group congregated at the RV point and we eventually reached critical mass, forcing our exit back to the bus.

After a short ride we piled out of the bus & into a Cafe for a welcomed breakfast before returning to our Hotel.

The plans for the rest of the day included a visit to the Red Fort and the Baby Taj but that all seemed too much of a good thing so I stayed behind and caught up on some sleep, took a swim in the pool behind the Hotel, trying not to swallow any of the water (or get it in my eyes) as there was a scum of debris & feathers on the surface and bird droppings pitted the surrounding area.

My last encounter with a similar pool in Marrakech left me with an eye infection for weeks.

By late afternoon the Gang returned.

Jaki flopped on the bed and immediately fell asleep.

Exhausted by the Heat and yet another meal (this time Lunch) she had to be levered off the bed to get ready for our evening meal at the Maya Hotel and Restaurant where we sat outside on the balcony with 5 other large groups, all from G Adventures.

This place is popular with Tourists as the food is fantastic. The Chicken Tikka had  large pieces of marinated chicken on a metal spike about 2 foot long which is dropped into a large ceramic open topped tandoori oven to cook. It was fantastic, tender but still juicy.

With plenty of beers, Nan Breads, lime pickle and a yoghurt and mint sauce, I can see why.

The down side?

It was hot, relying purely on fans hung from the ceiling (that dripped condensation) to circulate the air. It was noisy, the conversation of 50+ people wasn’t able to drown out the sound of horns honking on the road below and the sad looking musicians playing sitar and drums right behind me was a constant distraction.
It was also the most expensive to date,1600 Rupees including drinks Vat (14%) and service charge.

But, I enjoyed every second of it.

On the way back to the Hotel the coach stopped at a road side Cafe where they were dispensing hot milk  into clay jugs which are drunk greedily by an avid clientele. Sadly, or perhaps fortuitously, they had run out so we were unable to sample this local delicasy. Instead The gang loaded up on over priced essentials. Pringles, Kinder eggs and chocolate.

What a day. What an experience and, what next?

Pictures will need to follow as the wifi is so poor i just cant load anything

Exploring Delhi.3rd October 2016

Day two started at 0600 which is a bit early for this old couple. In fact, it was a bit early for most of the group, especially the two boys who stayed up all night watching the Rider Cup on their TV.

We met in the restaurant at 0700 and were checking out and onto the bus just after 0800.

The first stop was in Delhi.

We rendezvoused with a Guy from ‘Street Kids” (a charity supported by G Adventures) who was going to ‘show us round the back streets of Old Delhi’ and give us an insight into his life on the streets.

The tour started by taking us across some waste ground where waste and rubbish was dumped. Rats were dodging in and out of holes in the walls and there was a very bad smell of rotting food from a mountain of polystyrene fast food containers.

Once through this under belly we were engulfed in the narrow streets and alleys of Old Delhi.

Following our tour guide in single file we were strung out over about 20 metres with Jaki and I bringing up the rear.

My fears about the age difference between us and the group seems to be unfounded and they took on their responsibilities a my ‘main carer’s’ without complaint, ensuring we weren’t cut adrift in the sea of bodies as we brought up the rear of our convoy, snaking through the narrow streets.

 

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Narrow alley. Old Delhi

We stopped at a junction and our guide told us this wall was often used by Men to urinate so, local’s had put up religious Icon’s and picture’s which had immediately stopped this unwanted behaviour.

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No Pee-ing sign

The power of religion.

We proceeded on and quickly entered a doorway which was the head office of Street Kids. It was very old and a little eerie. Bare stone step’s with concrete walls Woven with a latticework of wrought Iron rails offered a hand grip and security against intruders.

Pigeon dropping and grey dust covered every surface creating a surreal Halloween environment fit for the very best Hammer Horror could offer.

We climbed up several floors and squashed into a small office dominated by a huge air conditioning unit.

The walls were adorned with pictures of street kids from the past who had ‘made Good’ and we were told with obvious pride where each one was now and what they had achieved. Some, like our guide, were working for Street kids talking to visitors and promoting the project.

We were even shown a picture of Prince William and Kate who had apparently visited the project and were keen supporters.

The guys own story was full of Irony and it could easily become a Religious Parable of epic proportions.

His Father was an Imam and wanted him to follow in his footsteps, however he wasn’t good at memorising the Koran so his father used to beat him. At the age of 10 he ran away and by pure chance found himself on the streets of Delhi where he lived for a year or so. At some stage he was found by his father who took him home but the cycle began again and it wasn’t long before he was back in Delhi. He eventually heard of Street Kids and came to live in one of their Hostel’s where he was fed, clothed and educated.

The Irony of a Father beating his child in order to make him religious is not lost on me and I think back to my Mums experiences in a pre- war Catholic School where the Nun’s took a sadistic pleasure in punishing the children in their care.

What we do in the name of religion?

We left the office and went to a home for current street Kids.

This again was in an old building with a locked door set in the wall off a narrow street full of shops and alcoves where men squatted on the floor making or repairing things that we in the west would discard without conscience.
Climbing the steep stairs the echo of voices could be heard. It reminded me of times past we had to enter Horfield prison to deal with an inmate who had set fire to his mattress. The hard surfaces spitting noise back at you with venom. Cheers and jeers mixed into a cocktail of sound that seemed to have no human origin. Trapped between the locked doors and the barred windows.

The first floor was a dormitory where even at this time some people were sleeping

The top floor was different. this was alive with noise. Shrieks and laughter could be heard and when we stepped out into the sunlight we were greeted by a bunch of smiling faces all keen to say “Hello” and shake hands.

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Boys (they were all boys, I think the Girls are housed separately) of all shapes and sizes were vying to show us their talents at Thumb Wrestling and hand clapping games. One rather boisterous young fellow was keen to show his strength and encouraged us to let him Punch our palms as hard as he could.

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The centre of the floor was a metal grill so you could see down onto the floor below. Tin pans were stacked in a corner by a running tap and a guy sat peeling potatoes ready for cooking. Was there a slight smell of disinfectant or did i invent this?

We spent maybe 15 minutes there and you couldn’t help be moved to know that these kids had no home (other than that dishevelled building) no family and until Street Kids, no future.

Poverty is ever present here in India. It is a reality.

It isn’t hidden or denied, it is accepted , accommodated and when possible, challenged.

In acceptance we see people sleeping in the Tuk-Tuk’s with which they earn their living or the less fortunate, sleeping on a mat at the side of the road, like the big Bullocks that seem to have no fear of traffic. All the while big car’s drive by honking their horn’s in frustration at the perceived obstacles slowing them down.

Challenging poverty, people seem to take the matter into their own hands and try to make a Rupee where ever they can. There is almost no activity which doesn’t generate a small ‘Tip’ pronounced ‘Dip’ by our tour leader (who I have taken to calling ‘Romi’ though Ive no Idea why. I got our taxi driver’s name wrong on the way to Heathrow and I’ve known him 10 years).

There is a tip for the taxi drivers, the waiting staff, the hotel staff, everyone expects to be tipped.

This may offend our Western sensibilities. Surely you only Tip when you get good service?

But here it’s a Social tax.

A method of distributing wealth to those that most need it. It is encouraged as part of the culture. Restaurants automatically add 5% service charge to a bill but you are expected to add a further 5% in cash which is guaranteed to go to the Staff and not the owner.

Our group have agreed to give Romi 700 Rupees each so he can distribute this as Tips to the relevant people (we often see him handing money to various people) on our behalf.

As well as the Hawkers trying to sell you sun glasses, fake watches and todays speciality (we’ve been to the Taj Mahal) Fridge Magnets, there are the obscure, unexpected way’s people have developed to make a few Rupees.

Like the Hotel Maintenance guy who offered to provide me with ‘Good Wine’ after he came to the room to check our fridge. Or the friendly guy who took us to the best photography spot’s at the Taj and when I thanked him by giving him 100 Rupees he asked if it was quite enough?

I can see some might find this annoying but it is in fact rather amusing, and entrepreneurial in a charming way.

Also, the sums are relatively small so a tip of 100 Rupees (just over a quid) aint gonna break the bank. Though i might have given some one 1000 Rupees tip yesterday thinking it was a 100 Rupee note but hey.

That’s what happens when Jaki trusts me with money!

We said our good byes to the Street Kids tour Guide and wished him well for the future, then made our way back past the Holy Pissing wall, across the waste land of debris to the main street where we waited for our bus to pick us up and take us to our next port of call a Mosque, which wasn’t the highlight of the tour.

After the Mosque we set off on a walk through the market area of Delhi. Narrow streets where humanity pushed and crushed each other. People still insisted on driving motorbikes through the throng which necessitated blowing their horns furiously to warn of their presence, even though there was no where for us to go. Tricycles, some towing home made wooden carts loaded with goods or passengers were an ever present but silent danger as they crept up on you from behind without warning.

Well, except the guy who make ‘Purp-Purping’ noises with his mouth in the absence of a proper horn.

It was extremely hot and very claustrophobic and the smells, Incense, cooking food, sewage and body odour combined to assault the senses and deliver mild nausea in even the most robust of characters. We were all glad when we burt out onto a wide street teeming with noise and traffic.

Our next visit was a Sikh Temple. This was far more interesting. Guarded by Sikhs carrying short curved daggers (some carried spears) they looked dignified and resplendent even if their clothes were a little thread bare and their beards pure white. They added the threat of violence which is I understand symbolic.

holy-book
The Holy Book

We took off our shoes, covered our heads with bandanas (they didn’t do an extra large) and entered the Temple. There was a three piece playing indian music and a guy sat on a raised Dais at the centre of proceedings. He was apparently looking after the Book. The Book is the centre of the Sikh religion which doesn’t accept God has a particular form or shape.

Therefore they worship the book to which they attribute a soul (very Harry potter) as a result, the book needs to rest each evening, so it is put away in a secure place.
This place has become as revered as the book itself and people prostrate themselves in front of it.

We visited the kitchens which cook food on an industrial scale and offers worshiper’s free food.

bill-making-bread-2
Making Bread.

The people working in the Kitchen did so for free as a way of Giving some thing to the community where they didn’t have money.

David Cameron Big Society wasn’t invented at Tory Party HQ then?

Once done we set off back to the bus which by now was stuck in the most horrendous traffic jam and we sat there for over an hour before we got free of this gridlock.

Once on the Motorway (Toll Road) we didn’t seem to be making any better progress. The bus it seemed had a top speed of 40 miles an hour and even if it were able to go faster the state of the roads would have prevented it.

Sat at the back of the bus (so sought after when i was at school and we’d go on a School trip. These were the seats where you might ‘get a snog’ or you could light up a Fag without the teacher noticing) Jaki and I were subject to a significant amount of turbulence.

Unfortunately for us these were the ‘Rock and Roll Seats’ the ‘Roller Coaster Ride seats’ as a result of the body work protruding about 2 metres over the rear axel which in itself had little or no suspension.

We were thrown around like a Bonus Ball in the Lottery.

If I didn’t have a dodgy stomach when we started, I did at the end and the journey lasted about 5 hours to Agra.

Thats not including the stop at the Mazala Cafe, a sort of Indian Motorway service station, where we had the best Vegetarian Thali to date.

(Given I’d not tried Paneer before, I have now had it 5 times in 3 days and its wearing a bit thin).

We eventually got to our Hotel the Atithi early evening.

I was pleasantly surprised. It was more modern than the last one, offered good size rooms’, had working air-con and hot showers. It even has a Pool.

bedroom-hotel-atishi
Hotel Atithi

We agreed to meet up and visit a local restaurant that offered a Buffet dinner but when we got there we were the only guests.

our-group-meal-2

The Buffet table looked deserted and there was a distinct lack of a Buzz about the place. But it was too late to turn back.

Most of us settled for the Buffet set menu though one or two preferred to order individual meals for fear of food poisoning if the buffet had been kept warm, though there was no fear of that given it was switched off.

When the meal was delivered (Starting with a clear Soup that had no taste and looked like weak tea) it became obvious that the ingredient distinctly resembled that of a Thali, the only difference being, these were served in steel bowls and the Thali tends to come on a tray.

bill-playing-the-sitar-2
Sitar Lessons

Even more bizarre, the individual meals ordered from the A la-Carte menu didn’t half look like the food served up as part of the Buffet!

I wonder if ???

First full day in Delhi 2nd October 2016

Bit of a mixed day really.

We slept really late and when we got up we weren’t  quite sure what to do.

So we took a walk down the main road toward the market. It was hot, dusty, very busy and extremely noisy. Everywhere there was traffic and it didn’t seem to have any structure. At the major junctions cars, Tuk-Tuks and rickshaws all jostled for places with scooters and people. It was a ‘Dog eat Tuk Tuk’ environment and no one gave ground.

The poverty is ever present. Litter piles up on every corner.  Mangy dogs keep one eye (some only have one eye) on the traffic whilst foraging amongst the waste for food.

Workers take on tasks with basic often inappropriate tools.I watched a guy chasing out a wall ready for an electric cable or a water pipe, using only a claw hammer and a wood chisel.

Old children’s toys are recycled, repaired and resold in shabby little workshops that are no bigger than my greenhouse.

We were swamped with hawkers trying to sell fake watches, Sun glasses and of all thinks, rugs and blankets. Sadly one or two were very persistent and wouldn’t take ‘NO’ for an answer. A far cry from the pleasant banter with the street traders in Thailand.

So we cut short our expedition and returned to the Hotel for lunch.

The food was pretty good though the ambiance of the roof top restaurant left a lot to be desired.

We are being cautious about what we eat and drink, and perhaps just as importantly, what we eat with and drink from. But there is only so much you can do without being paranoid.

We did watch one of the staff fill a jug with chilled water from a big chilling machine, drink straight from the jug, then put it back ready to serve iced water to the guests, which does demonstrate the sort of challenges a tourist faces here.

At 6 pm we met up with our fellow travellers most of whom are late twenties early thirties making us the oldies. Most are from the UK though there is one couple (Aric pronounced like Eric but with an A) and his partner Marta from Norway.

After our introductions and some more mandatory form filling (mainly replicating all the other paperwork we’ve already done) we all set off for a local restaurant. unfortunately our Guide who calls himself Roma (or some thing similar) took us on a hike through the now dark but just as frantic streets pointing out on route a cash machine, big news here in Delhi and a Hindu shrine that looked very much like a Ratner’s jeweler in Bedminster, before eventually  stopping at the Restaurant.

The food was very different to that which were familiar with in the Frampton Balti with the majority of meals being vegetarian. Paneer  being the main ingredient.

menu-in-restaurant

Jaki and I both went for Chicken dishes which were OK but had very little heat and if I’m honest wasn’t very tasty. Sad to come all the way to India only to find they cant cook Curry properly.

first-delhi-curry

I asked if there was any chilli and they brought fresh green chilli’s on sticks which  was novel and our group seemed to enjoy.

We made some initial chit-chat with our fellow traveller but did I ‘Feel the Love’ immediately? I wonder whether we will make any friend here or whether the gap is just too wide?

Time will tell.

I managed to get Roma to book  Jaki and I a Taxi for the return journey though none of our fellow travellers wanted to share with us, preferring instead to continue the walk.

I suspect we will find ourselves taking our own path again before the week is out.

 

 

Travel to Delhi. 1st October 2016

The Trip from Bristol to Delhi was fairly painless and uneventful, though I can’t say the same for the Taxi ride from the Airport to our Hotels which had enough thrills and spill’s to satisfy the most adventurous traveller.

We used Chipping Sodbury Taxi’s for the ride up to terminal 5 and called Ben our driver “Bob’ all the way. Good start!

Terminal 5 is relatively easy on the passengers with good system’s and short queue’s.

Even the staff were friendly!

We did possibly find the worst Wetherspoon’s I’ve ever used.

It seems they abandoned the ‘business model’ for profit at Heathrow, and it tells.

The menu offered a range of ‘Tea’s” but they only had Breakfast and it wasn’t very good.

Jaki had the worst Bacon Buttie I’ve seen in ages with dry white bread though my porridge was tasty

porridge-wetherspoons-heathrow
Wetherspoons Porridge

Our flight was relatively pleasant. We’d chosen the last row of seats at the back which are a pair so we had no one to interrupt us, a window and an isle seat and easy access to the toilet’s. Though because its open to the galley it was particularly draughty so we made good use of the blankets provided.

wing-tip
Flying into the Sunset

 

flight-screen
Flying over some Dodgy places

We were given two meals during the flight. The first one i chose was a Paneer Korma ( my first Paneer) the second, a Chicken dish with Mash and carrots. Both of which were pretty good.

The in flight entertainment left a bit to be desired. The screen’s were very small, picture quality poor and the variety and range on offer seemed limited. They did appear to have a good selection of films but the Country music selection in ‘Audio’ was poor.
Cindy Lauper, Country Music???

If, as suggested, Jonathan Ross had reviewed these offering’s he needs to get out more.

We arrived in Delhi at about 11 or 1130 in the evening.

As we left the plane the heat and humidity hit like a brick.

There was a very long walk from the terminal to the immigration desk and then an even longer wait to be processed.

On the plane we had been given immigration cards to complete which we presented with our Visa and passport then they took a further photograph and scanned our finger and thumb prints. Both hands.

This became a bit of a farce.

By using this High Tech system they hope to record everyone entering the country but the technology let them down.

The Finger print scanner seemed to have a high failure rate. One guy appeared to be impossible to scan even when the supervisors were called in. There was a lot of wobbling heads, scanning and re scanning but they could not get a satisfactory result.

This delay was repeated at every desk which caused the huge build up of tired frustrated passengers.

The lounge started to look like the migrant camp at Calais.

Once through we found a screen that told us our baggage was on carousel number 10. However, by the time we got there it was carrying bags from the Moscow flight. London was a distant memory.

There was a bit of ‘to-ing and fro-ing’ before we discovered our suitcase on the floor in a corner of the baggage hall.

At last, we finally made it out of the baggage hall and through the door where we were met by a wall of notices with peoples names on them. Hundreds of couriers or taxi drivers all waiting to meet passengers from various flights.

Everyone that is except us.

Eventually Jaki saw a G Adventures sign and we asked if they were expecting us. 

A young guy asked if we were Simmons and Hendy?

He then whisked us off to another part of the building where we were told to wait for our driver.

After about half an hour ‘she’ arrived.

G Adventures use ‘Women on Wheels’ a local charity that supports women drivers as a way of allowing them to work and earn a living.

Our driver told us to follow her and we set out on yet another hike to the car park where a very small car was waiting for us.

On route we stopped and bought two bottles of water from a Kiosk.

Even though it was 30+ degree’s the guy had a gas fire going full belt, which was melting the slices of Pizza for sale on the counter.

Our bags were crammed into the front seat and we were crammed into the back. When our driver stopped to pay the parking fee we became the centre of attention from all the other (Male) drivers. We suspect Women on Wheels is still a novelty here in Delhi.

As we left the terminal we had our first “Close Encounter of the Third kind”.

The first encounter is a near miss.
The second encounter is a near miss with Horns blowing.

The third (and most critical) is a near miss that makes the driver stop and take deep breaths.

We had two one these within 100 yards.

The exit from the airport is via a one way system.

However, local Taxi drivers in their haste to get a fare, choose to drive the wrong way. Even worse, they do it with their lights switched off!

Presumably they think they become invisible then?

This was our initial introduction to driving in Delhi, an activity that should be on everyones Bucket List, though it might hasten the end quite considerably.

There seemed to be no rules on the road except one.

Keep you hand firmly pressed on the horn at all times.

The only problem with this is that everyone else is doing the same.

Honking it seems is a way of life.

Honking when you overtake is a must and some of the big lorries actually have a sign on the back asking drivers to honk when they overtake.

The trip was about 40 minutes before we arrived at the Grand Park Inn.

Now theres two things wrong with this name.

First, it aint Grand and second, theres no park.

It sits among some rather squalid looking shops, a few street stalls and a vehicle repair shop. Its on a busy main road so the Honking continues all night and to be honest, its a bit run down. However, this is India and we didn’t pay for a 5 Star stay so its about what we expected.

view-from-our-window
View from our window

In reality, its reasonably comfortable. We slept well even though the pillows are about the same shape and size as a packet of Wet Wipes.

The Air Con is Noisy but works, theres a ceiling fan, fridge, flat screen TV but no coat hangers. There was though a Comb and some cotton bud’s in the drawer which might come in handy?

facilities-in-the-drawer

 

A plastic bucket in the shower and a Jug by the loo though I dread to think what they are used for.

seating-area
Our Air-Con

There were about 4 staff on duty when we arrived and two of them showed us to our room which meant two lots of tips.

Were currently dishing out 100 Rupee (80 Rupees to the £ ) notes as this is the smallest currency we have.

When we went to reception this morning there were six men on duty, there were at least 4 men in the kitchen at lunch time but we haven’t seen anyone cleaning which is a pity cause thats what this place really needs.

We slept till 1130 this morning and to be honest I would have slept even longer but Jaki was raring to go. It seems the honking kept her awake!

Well, welcome to my world.

So we took a walk down the road to the local market where they seem to sell more crap than you could shake a stick at.

WE were constantly pestered by Tuk Tuk drivers who want to take us to the Government market. We had fake watches and a variety of sun glasses thrust in our faces and we were befriended by a very nice young indian guy who told us he worked in IT, had nothing to sell but then tried to get us to got to the Government Market all the same.

walking-to-the-market
Walking to the Market

After 30 minutes in the heat we were wilting and the constant barrage of people trying to sell us stuff was beginning to tell.

So we turned around and walked back to the Hotel and the comfort of our beautiful room, with air-con.

We had lunch in the roof top restaurant which sadly had sheets dropped all around it which obscured the view.

roof-top-restaurant
Roof top Restauurant

Jaki had a Veg Thali at 180 Rupees and i had Hot and Sour Soup.

It was all fresh cooked and rather tasty. The Thali had a Paneer curry, Potato and Celery, Boiled rice, a side salad (which she left as its probably washed in local water and unsafe for us soft Westerners) a Chapati and a popadom. It looked and tasted great.

thali-close-up

My soup had Chilli in it. I mean it had Chilli in it, and nothing else.

Well, there was some black pepper but no other ingredients that i could see. At 80 Rupees it was really tasty and cheap.

So were back in the room. Jaki is snoring softly, the Honking is continuing and the air-con unit is doing its best to vibrate out of the window, but its becoming home.