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Published: August 17th 2015
Greetings from…Croydon!! Yay! I made it home safely, and it is just so wonderful to be back in my lovely little home again. This is the first time I’ve been away and come back to my own house, since moving in here three years ago, and it is such a little sanctuary to come home to after weeks on the road. If houses give hugs, mine embraces me each and every day, and I like to think I do the same back.
I can’t believe that the last time I wrote an entry I was writing about looking for tigers and avoiding charging bison in the depths of the Indian Jungle. And now I am here all safe and cosy in my spare bedroom, with the beautiful tall trees across the road moving gently in the refreshing English breeze and the family of finches which have nested in my eaves chirping away blissfully in the summer sun. What a wonderful place to be, and it reminds me of the other reason that I travel: not only to explore the beautiful world in which we live, but to also appreciate the comforts and security of my own home
upon my return.
To be honest, these last few days have not been too great really. I was reminded by a couple of fellow bloggers (Hi Ren and Drew!) of a phrase I'd heard on my previous visit to India, that it is not a case of "if" you get ill in India, but "when". I don't know what it is about this country, the food is just absolutely delicious, but no matter how much care you take, you're bound to get the "Delhi belly" at some point. This trip, as well as my last, I took great care in deciding where to have my meals, sometimes going without a meal if there were no decent-looking eateries around and getting by on packets of biscuits, crisps, or my rations of pepperami I always bring with me on trips for such situations. Decent-looking eateries would either be a mid- to upper-range place listed in the Lonely Planet, an air-conditioned restaurant or top hotel, or even the hotels I stay at. Not-so-decent ones would be the innumerable street food vendors and grubby looking open-fronted "restaurants" with either no signs in English, or signs in English but with poor spelling, and lots
Wild Indian Elephant
Mudumalai Tiger Reserve
of people speaking at high volume. Still, as with my last trip, I took ill on my third to last day in the country. Perhaps this is my own body's way of dealing with India, that my stomach just fights through it all until it knows it's about to go home, starts to relax a bit, and then just caves in to whatever has been attacking at it for so long. Anyway, I will talk more about this below. I will begin properly by starting again from where I last left off.
I believe this was after having arrived in the royal city of Mysore, in the fantastic and ultra-comfortable Parklane Hotel. Whilst the reception of this hotel was notably quite cold and institutional, causing some frustration on my part due to my penchance for customer friendliness and service, the room was just a delight. I have never seen such an array of fantastic hotel freebies - each new guest gets a pencil-case full of the stuff, apparently with different his and hers versions. Mine had the usual soap and shampoo, but also had a toothbrush, toothpaste, razor, shaving foam, shower cap, talc, "skin jelly" (?), pen, bottle-opener/key-ring, and
quite a few other things I fail to remember right now. I was so impressed I took a photo of it all, and have included it here in the blog! Along with this, the room was kitted out with so many facilities, including a hair-dryer, mobile-phone charger with at least 10 different types of plugs for different types of equipment, fridge, flat-screen TV, weighing scales (!), and stickers put on each of the many switches in the room to tell you what each one was for: reading light, entrance light, A/C, fan and so on. The room service menu was also very extensive, with additional travellers' advice on how to avoid the dodgies (rickshaw drivers and the general ne'er-do-wells) of the city, as well as "Ten Top Tips to Deal with Hangovers"...! This was just so welcoming, and the fact that the hotel manager was just so fastidious in his job just made me feel I had arrived in a place which really wants to look after me. Once past the reception, just lovely! And all this for a mere 2000 rupees (£20). I just loved it!!
My journey from the Jungle was really quite nice actually, and the
jeep-taxi that took me from the Tree House to the junction where I could pick up a nice empty bus to Mysore drove past a great sighting of a pair of wild elephants by the roadside, unobscured by any bushes this time. Not so brilliant was waiting at the empty bus stop at the transport junction for the bus - the taxi driver said he would wait with me to make sure I got on the right bus, but instead wandered off and had a chat to a few of his taxi driver friends. I was left alone with the 20 or so monkeys who seemed to be attracted to anyone waiting at the bus stop. Things were not so bad, until two of them had a bit of a squabble and one of them bared its huge fangs at the other - whoa - I would not like to get on the wrong side of these creatures, particularly a pack of them. Fortunately the bus arrived with no further monkey business, and took me on to my final Indian state of Karnataka. Another state seemingly more developed than Tamil Nadu, and perhaps with the modern, more developed city of
Bangalore as its capital, it is not surprising that the state is also markedly better off. The road to Mysore was still being tarmacced properly, but the parts that were finished were some of the smoothest roads I'd travelled along in South India, indeed India for that matter. And the roadside pitstop we stopped at along the way was almost paradise: lovely, tastefully decorated shops and restaurant, although the "Pay and Use" toilet facilities were still as stinking as they get, and I argued with the attendant as he wanted me to pay 3 rupees as opposed to the sign that said 2. I was having none of it, being again indignant that someone would just expect a foreigner to pay more, and eventually got my proper change back. Although it does seem futile arguing over merely one pence (seriously!), I am rather stubborn when it comes to that. I do not like being ripped off...
Two hours later the bus arrived in Mysore, and I checked into said-mentioned hotel. After wallowing in the delights of the freebies, and the white sheets and air-conditioning, I decided to explore what I had come to see in Mysore that very afternoon.
It is said that if you haven’t seen it, you haven’t been to South India. This was the Mysore Palace, the stunningly beautiful abode of the Wodeyar royal family since 1565. The Wodeyars are a maharaja dynasty who still continue today (albeit with limited political powers), and who had sovereignty over Mysore from 1565, even during the British Raj, until India gained independence in 1947. Mysore Palace is a beautiful demonstration of their great wealth and power, and its stunning architecture, exuberant use of carved teak wood and silver in its decoration, and enormous internal and external spaces testify to the great power this dynasty once had. I was thoroughly amazed during my visit there, though unfortunately as with the Meenakshi Amman Temple in Madurai, cameras weren’t allowed inside, not even mobile phones this time. So the only pictures I have are of the outside, involving what I fondly remember during my last visit to India – that Indian people just LOVE having their photo taken with foreigners, and I quite enjoy feeling like a film star for a time too. At the entrance I met a uniformly dressed group of men and women who each wore a black and
white photograph of a man around their necks. Asking them what group they belonged to, they told me in their limited English that they were a group of librarians following a certain man’s teachings that libraries should be established in rural areas (blimey, there’s a group for everybody in India…!) Upon telling them that my mother is a librarian, I was made to feel like one of the family, and if I could have translated what they were saying in their own language excitedly, it probably would have meant something like “welcome home brother!”, “he’s one of us!”. Photo included. Another interesting entourage encountered was a group of men with shaved heads, who I understood through their even more limited English that they had just been on a pilgrimage, many Hindu pilgrimages involve the shaving of one’s head as an offering to the god(s). After taking the group photo, they each wanted a more personal picture of me, with two of them standing by me at a time. With around ten of them in total, this took quite a while and bordered a little on the frenetic at times. Interesting, though I was a bit glad when this one was
over and I made my exit quickly before any further photos were requested. Again, photo included here.
My second day in Mysore involved just a nice quiet (unusual in India) morning around a nearby nature reserve, called the Karanji Lake Nature Park. This was just beautiful, and a fantastic retreat from the hustle and bustle of the Indian city. I happily walked around the lake and back again amidst sounds of surrounding birdlife, including peacocks, being warily aware of the various signs around the place telling you to beware of both snakes, and crocodiles…! Something many of the Indian couples who had gone there for a romantic retreat didn’t seem to pay heed to whilst chilling by the waters. Indeed, instead of seeing the groups of birdwatchers and nature enthusiasts I had expected, the Karanji Lake Nature Park seemed to be the top spot in Mysore where young couples can romantically spend time together, probably away from the prying eyes of their families. I felt a tad awkward being alone there, but anyway, I was used to that by now.
Which brings me on to another thing: India does not seem to recognise the solo traveller. The people
wonder why he travels alone, wonders where his wife is, and his children. And cannot possibly imagine that a man of 37 years old is not married with kiddies. The first question an Indian asks when meeting one for the first time is “What is your name?”, then he asks “are you married?”. If this is not followed up by “why not?”, it is followed by “what is your monthly salary?”. I found this a bit tricky to handle, and often ended up saying I was 33 years old and had a girlfriend who decided to stay in England for the summer. Much easier. The salary part I avoided by saying it’s a bit complicated to work out with the exchange rate (even though that is actually very easy, one Indian rupee being currently worth pretty much one pence).
Anyway, I digress. After a nice stay in Mysore, despite the buzzing bees of the rickshaw drivers and dodgy street touts, who again tend to follow you and don’t take no for an answer, I made my last trip, this one by train, to my final destination in India: Bangalore!
What a great place to finish on! I was
most excited about visiting Bangalore, as I had heard that along with Mumbai, it is one of India’s two most modern and progressive cities. Whilst it was no New York, it was still mightily impressive in terms of development standards for India. I encountered practically no vagrants, the rickshaw drivers generally minded their own business, and the streets were full of young, well-dressed and well-off people, chatting in English, and hanging around in the buzzing cafes, restaurants and malls. Whilst there I was also interviewed on the street by a journalist from the Times of India, on what I think should be improved in Bangalore: I said pretty much nothing, it was all just excellent already anyway after having seen so many other places in India. I did mention that the city's Pre-Paid Rickshaw Service at the Train Station (where you pay a standard-rate to the rickshaw driver determined by a computer-generated price depending on the distance to be travelled, thus avoiding all the aggro and hassle of over-charging and bartering) was just excellent, and that there should be more of them all over the city. The journalist took a great interest in my comment, and I was photographed by
her accompanying photographer. I shall now be Googling "Times of India Alex Waring" every day to see if my comments, and photo, made the press! Bangalore also has a couple of shiny skyscrapers, and a metro that actually worked…!! My experiences of Indian cities so far, namely Delhi ten years ago, and Chennai this time, were that metro systems were being built painfully slowly, with the opening date being at some point in the quite distant future (Delhi’s might actually have opened by now…). Bangalore actually had one metro line, albeit only six stations long so far, but up and running and working like a dream. My best experience in Bangalore was actually riding it to its terminus and back into town again, metros in India being built along sky-ways as opposed to being underground. The view from up there was wonderful, and the journey showed me just how massive the city was. The place is home to nearly 9 million, having grown from 6 million since I was last in India. In fact, population growth is something that really hit me during my time there. In 2005, I was actually in India when the country’s billionth baby was born,
making headline news in all the newspapers, and even fireworks and jubilations taking place. I was not so sure it was something to celebrate. Now, India has a whopping 1.25 billion people, that’s 250 million people more than last time, around three times the population of the UK having been added to the country in the last ten years. This is definitely something I think India suffers from, and I really don’t think it’s something to celebrate with so much poverty and inequality around. Rather, I think the example set by Kerala, of rural education (particularly of women) and family planning, should really be adopted by the whole country. After all, it is not quantity but quality that matters, and I don’t know whether it was because I was in a different part, or whether I’m just getting older, but the places I visited did seem rather crowded. I much enjoy my personal space, but there really doesn’t seem to be much of that in India.
Anyway, I do not wish to criticise here. I do believe, though, that India should think seriously about its levels of population growth. I have also been reminded that India is actually a
really tough country to travel in, so perhaps I’m also just getting a few things off my chest here. I remember that I had chosen to go to India as it had been a while since I’d been travelling, and I thought it would be easier to travel in a country I’d already been to. While the familiarity was interesting, the toughness of the travel had not changed. It is a hectic place, with people, buildings, traffic and noise everywhere. Train tickets are not always easy to acquire, and bus travel, if non-AC, is not too comfortable. Unfortunately the fantastic warmth and friendliness of the Indian people is often marred for the tourist by the aggressive rickshaw driver and general busy-body who just wants to scam you, and you have to constantly, in every place and situation, be aware of this and be on your guard. This all contributes to making it a tough and rather tiring place to travel in, though still mightily rewarding in many ways. Rewarding particularly in having “done it”!
On the positives, and as mentioned, the Indian person beyond the tourist-tout front is just wonderful – super-friendly, warm, and never lacking in the ability
to give a friendly smile and a hospitable welcome. The mix of culture, religion and spirituality is mind-bogglingly perplexing, but fascinating, and it is certainly, in my personal experiences, one of the spiritual hot-spots of the world – I don’t know what it is about India, but there is much to be learnt about the inner soul there. Last time I visited, I put this down to the fact that it is just so difficult to find peace around you, what with the noise and chaos in India, that one has no choice but to find that peace within. This certainly rang true again during this last visit. The places to see are just incredible, having visited vibrant temples, historical palaces, peaceful backwaters and tropical jungles. And last but by no means least, the food! Blimey, this has just been incredible! I don’t know how it’s done, perhaps I should study a cook book now I’m home, but each Indian curry that I had there, whether it was a basic breakfast spread or a sumptuous gourmet meal, was just bursting with tantalising and taste-bud-tingling flavour. Absolutely delicious, and I certainly did my fair share of eating, at least three times
a day, sometimes four, while I was there.
However, and unfortunately related to my last point on food, and as mentioned earlier, my third to last day in India I finally succumbed to what they call the “Delhi belly” – not the if, but when I got ill in India. I thought it might not happen, but just like the last time, it caught up with me just before I left, and boy did it catch up with me. After checking into the wonderful boutique hotel, St Marks’ Inn in Bangalore, and exploring the city for a few hours, it hit me with a powerful punch to the stomach. Fortunately I’d just arrived in my hotel when it began, but when my temperature reached 38.8 degrees by 10pm, I thought I’d better call a doctor. Within an hour he came (beat that UK health system, crumbling monstrosity that it is…!!!), and within another hour the hotel had sent one of its bell-boys to an all-night pharmacy to purchase the medicine he’d prescribed (The doctor’s visit cost a mere £10, whilst the four types of medicine prescribed over three days cost just £1.50!!) Thus, my final full day in India,
Karanji Lake Nature Park
Saturday, was spent thoroughly bed-bound, rather miffed as I did want to explore more of modern Bangalore, but actually more worried that the journey home on Sunday would either not happen or just be a nightmare. Saturday was also Indian Independence Day (15th August 1947), and I was also rather disappointed at not being able to see anything on the streets for this (although perhaps I should have been grateful had there been, though highly doubtful, any anti-British sentiments about the occasion...?). The medicine worked fast, though, and by Saturday morning my fever had gone, Saturday evening I was able to walk again, and although I left for the airport on Sunday morning still feeling like World War Two was happening in my stomach, by the time I was served my first meal on the flight to Dubai, I felt pretty much back to normal again. Indeed, I really quite enjoyed the flights home. Under normal circumstances I just love aeroplane food anyway, but having only had soup, watermelon and a banana for the previous two days, I just wolfed down the little bits and bobs served on the Emirates flight. The two-hour stopover in Dubai was just incredible, spent
Karanji Lake Nature Park
marvelling at the airport’s epic architecture, catching a glimpse of the HUGE 828m high Burj Khalifa skyscraper even from the airport, and having a good talk with a fellow traveller from Austria just returning from travelling in south-east Asia. And the final leg to London just flew by, with both flights taking in four films in total: two heart-wrenchers, “The Water Diviner” and “Escobar: Paradise Lost” (my goodness the ending…), and two heart-warmers: “Shaun the Sheep Movie” and “Frozen” (Let It Go!!).
And at 9pm last night, I walked through the door of my wonderful little Victorian terrace in Croydon, and to bed within the hour. This morning, after 10 hours sleep, I have still woken up thoroughly exhausted, probably a combination of the jet-lag, 3.5 weeks of travelling the Indian road, and recovery from the Delhi belly. But I am now at the really high point that happens with all my journeys: that is, the bit where you come home, contemplate all that has happened in the preceding weeks, begin to process it, learn from it, store away the memories and add them to your collection, and hopefully develop and learn a little more about life from having
seen the world around you. On the more practical side, I am currently putting pretty much everything (including toiletry bags, shoes, and even the backpacks themselves) through the process of deep-cleaning in my automatic washing machine, and will be doing the same with myself in my bathtub along with an alcoholic ginger beer very shortly.
So until the next time (thinking along the lines of something US/Canada-related next Easter, and Central American in the summer), this is Alex Waring, signing off for another travel journey and blog. I have had the most amazing time and experiences on this journey, and thank you very much for sharing this with me through this fantastic blog website (thank you Travelblog.org!)
Take care, and all the best
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