INDIA 2017

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August 20th 2017
Published: August 21st 2017
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After many years of posting blogs as we travelled around the world, we’ve decided to keep this blog short & sharp, and let our photographs do the talking for us. We hope people will find it equally informative and interesting.

With 3 grandchildren to celebrate & enjoy, we now don’t travel as much but will continue to do so during some of the English winter to warmer countries.

Mumbai – The city you love or hate

We flew to India with Jet Airways – unremarkable journey, though our choice of their vegetarian option was spot on. Unfortunately, to get the cheaper flight to India, we arrive just after midnight the next day and thankfully were met by our friend from London – Satish - and his cousin Swapnil Kulkarni in whose home in the Mumbai suburbs we were being hosted. Thanks to Satish & his family’s generosity.

Our last trip to the city wasn’t much to write home about. It’s a city you either love or hate. M is more a Delhi man having been brought up in North India & with friends in Delhi.

At this stage we must pay tribute to and acknowledge the invaluable effort of Mr Aditya Trivedi, who is a dear friend who runs a Travel Agency in Udaipur who we met on our last trip to Rajasthan. He’s definitely a ‘Mr Fixit’ when it comes to travelling throughout India & we recommend him to anyone wishing to explore this amazing country but is daunted by its sheer bureaucracy. He does the travel bits and we choose the Hotels/Hostels/Homestays that suit us online.

So, with not much expectation to start with, we were totally taken by our stay with our most generous & congenial hosts – the Kulkarni family with Dad Sunil & his wife Madhuri. We enjoyed a roof top Seafood BBQ, a trip for M on Swapnil’s Royal Enfield motor bike (a first for him), a lovely morning in Mumbai on a Sunday (seeing some of the main tourist sites) being shown around by locals before finishing off with a pitcher of chilled beer at a local sports bar and a great ‘Thali’ at Chetana in Fort, for lunch - a famous vegetarian restaurant. Madhuri is a great cook (and taught C a thing or two) and treated us to many Indian delicacies – some a reminder of M’s childhood.

Madhuri & Sunil also happened to be Therapists dealing with a range of ailments and went to town on Michael’s leg that has been affected by his Sciatic nerve being ‘squeezed’ in his lower back. They were determined to make him feel better & tried, acupuncture, massage etc, which did help enormously and he is eternally grateful.

We enjoyed a lovely meal at Britannia one day in the city centre – a Parsee Institution and learnt a lot more of this refugee community from Persia (Iran). We’d recommend a visit here.

We had a wonderful time in Mumbai – perhaps because we didn’t do too much of the tourist stuff and just enjoyed a fabulous local family experience in Mumbai.

The city has changed since we were last here – for the better we would add - despite all its challenges (and it still has many), it is a lot cleaner and a bit more organised.

Palolem – South Goa (the Goa of the 60s & 70s!)

After 5 days, we said farewell to our wonderful hosts and friend Satish and took an Uber taxi to the station for our overnight, air-conditioned (2AC they call it), train to Margao – the main station in Goa. Travelling 2AC with Indian Railways is the way to go if on a budget. It’s comfortable, clean & enjoyable.

Arriving at Margao very early in the morning, we get a taxi at the Pre-Paid taxi rank (a terrific Indian system that sets a controlled fixed price for any journey – which means you don’t need to haggle & don’t feel cheated). The journey takes an hour to Dreamcatchers Resort – accommodation we had pre-booked from home – and we actually awaken the reception staff at 7am.

We have a lovely room at the edge of the resort by the river estuary and the beach. The place is ‘pretty chilled’, and caters for massage, yoga etc. It also has a nice restaurant for food overlooking the estuary, where we do try some enjoyable meals & get free ice for our rum & cokes in the evenings.

Palolem is a lovely seaside village, a lot quieter and more fun than North Goa – more of that later. It reminds M of the Goa he first experienced nearly 40 years ago. It’s still quite under developed and retains much of its natural charm. The beach and sea are a lot nicer, blue & clearer than the north. Though Party city this isn’t!

We enjoy a very relaxing week here, trying out various food and drink venues. The best experience we had was a seafood place The Olive Room (where you choose your fresh seafood on the way in) - with a great ‘Headwaiter’ called ‘Jimmy’ (aka Sunil from Rishikesh) that did the best Fish & Jumbo Prawns for your money, done the way you’d like them. All washed down with cool Kingfisher beers – of course!

We hire a scooter - a must do in Goa - to experience the countryside and its hidden gems – and visit Patnem a laid back and beautiful little bay with very little going on and quite a few hippies who’ve settled here. A throwback to the 60s!

After indulging in a few Ayurvedic massages, we bid farewell to Palolem to continue our adventure by heading back to Margao (Rs1000) to catch the train to Hospet – the main station for to visit the UNESCO World Heritage site of Hampi

Hampi (Karnataka)– The capital city of the Vijayanagara Empire

The train ride to Hospet, takes about 8 hours and the trains only run on certain days of the week there and back. We are met at the station by a Tuk Tuk driver pre-arranged with our Homestay, who takes us to Padma Guest House – just by the main temple of the ‘Old City’.

Hampi is located within the ruins of the city of Vijayanagara, the former capital of the Vijayanagara Empire. We have only a day and a half here as we have to catch the train back to Margao or stay another 2 days.

The Hampi main sites can be visited in a day but you need transport as the interesting sites are quite spread out. We hire the Tuk Tuk driver to take us around – the standard rate is about Rs 1300. You also need to get a ticket to enter some of the sites.

The history of this once prosperous and powerful centre for the old empire is fascinating and coming here is well worth it – though we are not sure there is much else to do and there’s little choice for good eating-places. The best place for food with a nice vibe is the Mango Tree. We even venture to Anegundi across the river by boat, which is an experience itself, and witness the famous sunset.

The main attractions are:- The Sacred centre - Virupaksha Temple, Hemakuta Hill, Nandi Statue, the Vittala Temple, the Stone Chariot, Lakshimi Narasmiha & Krishna Temples, Sule Bazaar & Achyutaraya Temple, there’s the Royal Centre & Islamic Quarter as well.

We leave very early in the morning to catch our train back Margao to stay for a couple of days in Panjim.

Panjim – Capital city of Goa

The pre-paid taxi from Margoa to Panjim (Rs1000) takes an hour and we have decided to stay in Panjim and enjoy some of the old colonial city’s past and architecture. We are booked into the ‘Panjim Inn’ a Heritage Hotel with the most expensive beers in the room bar in the whole of India!. Unfortunately, we didn’t have much choice as it was election time in Goa and the region goes ‘Dry’ – No alcohol on sale anywhere – to avoid people getting drunk & having political (often violent) disagreements.

The hotel is lovely as is the room and is located in the heart of the old Portuguese area. We dine in on the Hotel Terrace and the meal was fabulous.

Next day we explore the areas of – Fontainhas, Sao Tome & Altinho that are typical Portuguese colonial buildings and communities. We have a lovely but slightly expensive lunch at the Delhi Darbar – a recommendation by M’s sister who used to come to Goa each year.

Kochi – Kerala

We have visited Kerala before and having had such a wonderful time we decide to do it again. We travel from Margao to Ernakulam by train and from the station get a Pre-Paid (Rs:180) Tuk Tuk this time to our pre-booked Homestay (Greenwoods Bethlehem) run by a lovely local couple.

The room was good for the price & the fresh breakfast included taken on the roof terrace was quite nice. It was walkable into Kochi central from the accommodation, though we did hire a scooter for a day to get us around more conveniently.

The main activity and attractions of Kochi are largely around the port where the ancient Chines Fishing nets are – more tourist attraction than useful these days, and the old Jewish Quarter.

We enjoyed some awesome food in our 3 days here. The best was the Fort House Hotel – which did amazing seafood dishes at reasonable prices on a deck over the estuary, Dal Roti was really good and gets pretty busy & we tried the local Street stalls one night, which was nice.

Allepey – Kerala

Saying good-bye to our hosts, we get a Tuk Tuk back to the station from the Homestay to catch the train from Ernakulum to Allepey – about 1 hour. We get to the pre-booked Homestay Cherukara Nesthere and find that the owner is out despite being informed about our arrival time.

Later we discover that he’s in a ‘bad place’ as he’s totally pissed out of his head & needs to sleep it off. This is a ‘Dry State’ apparently in India? Didn’t do him much good. However, to his credit this episode was not repeated during our stay & he seemed most helpful & the breakfasts we nice.

The town is a bit small and there’s not really a lot to do despite the hype. Most people come here to experience a 2-day (we are being generous), more like one-day Kerala backwater experience – which is pretty good. Rs 7000 is the going rate and that includes food, (though the meals on board weren’t as good or as much as we got the last time we did the trip 10 years ago) though you’d need to buy your own drinks (beers etc) in advance & allow for the customary tip to the boatman and the cook on board.

The Kerala backwater experience is really lovely and we even try a short trip on a canoe to a local village that is only accessible by canoe.

Back on dry land, we head for the station to catch the overnight train to Chennai, from where we will catch a Flight to Port Blair – in The Andaman Islands

Port Blair – Capital city of The Andaman & Nicobar Islands

After the short morning flight from Chennai, we are met at the airport by a local TuK Tuk driver to take us to our pre-booked accommodation, the Lalaji Bay View Hotel – which is on the central edge of town.

Dinner is on the roof terrace of the hostel and after a restful night we get the early morning Makruzz Ferries Catamaran Crossing – it’s a private fast Ferry pre-booked - to Havelock Island, which takes nearly 3 hours -not much faster than the Govt Ferry but a lot more comfortable, bookable and more organised. Obviously a bit more expensive too.

Havelock - The Andaman & Nicobar Islands

Arriving at Havelock Island, we again stay at the Emerald Gecko Resort and have some good fortune when for the last three days they upgraded us to a large ‘Town House’ shack, as they had made an error on our booking.

This was a more relaxing 8 days on lovely white sandy beaches and Caribbean like blue sea. It didn’t disappoint. We hired a scooter for a few days and toured around. The place is developing fast – too fast in our view & there’s a real risk that it will lose its unique charm. They even have a Taj Hotel now at Beach No: 7

We try the Anju-coco Resto, where we meet up with an old friend from Delhi who’s father owns & runs the place. The place is more expensive & seems to have lost some of it’s food quality in a quest for the Tourist Rupee. A shame. We also tried Dakshin – a south Indian restaurant by the jetty but that was pretty poor too. Though our visits to the Full Moon Cafe, did not disappoint – their Malabar & South Indian Fish dishes were fabulous. The Emerald Gecko Resort’s food was also fabulous and has improved 100%!s(MISSING)ince we were last here. The Highlights were the Nicobar Prawn and the Fish Curry, which were superb, as was the Seafood BBQ evenings.

Port Blair – overnight at the Lalaji Bay View Hotel

On our arrival back from Havelock, we are met by the same Tuk Tuk guy by prior arrangement and we stay overnight in the Lalaji Hotel.

As we have an early Air India flight to Goa via Chennai – our Tuk Tuk man gets us to the airport at 6 am.

Chennai – a day trip we couldn’t avoid

Chennai is where M went to University & it’s not one of India’s delightful cities. We have visited before and we would have happily given it a miss but the connecting flights from The Andamans to Goa required us to spend 8 hours here so we tried to make the most of it.

We catch the local suburban train fromTirusulam Station (just across from the airport)and go to San Thome station. Here we visit the famousSaravan Bhavan restaurant, which does the best Dosas in India & enjoyed some local South Indian cuisine.

We walk along to San Thome Cathedral (Catholic Cathedral) & the Kapaleeshwarar Temple nearby (which unfortunately is closed for Siesta it seems.

Then it’s back to the air-conditioned Airport for our Air India connecting flight to Goa. Thankfully they had checked in our luggage through from Port Blair to Goa.

Sinquerim/Calangute – North Goa (or Goa gone mad!)

The short flight to the new Goa airport is pretty good. We are going back to North Goa mainly to meet up with our friend Satish to celebrate his birthday here with his friend Yogesh from Pune who is visiting from his home in Sydney, Australia.

We are met by Mario, a taxi guy arranged via the Homestay we are booked into called “Hibiscus” in Sinquerim near the Taj Fort Aguada Hotel. It’s a delightful place and we’d recommend it to everyone.

It’s an old Goan/Portugese House converted and run by the original owner’s family. Lourenco & his wife Ann & son. The place is an absolute delight in a quiet street, which is more than we can say about this popular part of Goa, that we have visited many times over the last 30 years. It is now so over developed and devoid of character (Candolim, Calangute & Baga), we are unlikely to go back to again. Even delightful Anjuna, with its lovely weekly Wednesday market, is getting overdeveloped.

We meet up with our friends the next day & to our surprise – Satish turns up with Sunil & Swapnil (our hosts in Mumbai) as well as Yogesh and it makes for a great week’s celebrations mainly at Rudi’s Shack on the beach where we have the main birthday celebrations.

Also a very pleasant surprise is the arrival of Satish’s nephew Anupam from Hyderabad (a weekend stay over). It’s great to see him again & he’s been kind enough to bring us some gifts. Satish & the rest stay at another friend (Phil’s) apartment in a complex in Calungute – not too far away.

We hire a scooter for our stay (the only way to enjoy Goa really) and get around between friends and places. We take a trip to Mapusa market & by some great spices to take home but didn’t get to see Arti & Punam (two sisters who lived locally) who used to run the a market stall here – though spoke to them on the mobile. We unfortunately had to pass on the night market this time as it was on Satish’s Birthday – the main event!

After a fabulous 5 days & lots of partying & watching some of the Test match cricket between India & Australia (as Satish is cricket mad & it is his celebration after all), we’ve come to the end of our trip here. We say our goodbyes to our hosts, Satish & friends after a lovely breakfast for all of us together, at the Hibiscus, then Mario drops us off (Anupum included as he’s flying back to Hyderabad) at Goa airport.

Mumbai – Farewell to our Indian Adventure

The Indigo flight from Dabolim, Goa, to Mumbai is short & uneventful and we get a ‘pre-paid’ taxi to our pre-booked hotel – The Residency – in down town (Fort area) Mumbai. It’s a great location for an overnight stay. The hotel room wasn’t the best nor the service but the included breakfast was fabulous.

The taxi driver is a really nice guy, so we negotiate for him to pick us up early the next morning for our flight home from Mumbai.

We did our last minute shopping in ‘Fab India’, just around the corner from the hotel and bought some beautiful light colourful duvets. That evening we enjoyed a couple of ‘expensive beers’ in a local bar & had a fabulous dinner at Kyber (Afghanistan/Pakistan food), recommended by Swapnil & Yogesh – a definite recommendation from us even though a bit expensive by backpacker standards.

Finally, Mumbai airport is a quite disappointing compared to Delhi. Many shops had shut down and various wings were off limits & the prices for their Duty Free were more expensive that we’d get for the same stuff in the supermarkets back home.

Eventually we settle down to our 9-hour Jet Airways flight back to London and the end of another adventure……..I’m sure we’ll be back – next time North India in the not to distant future.

Additional photos below
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