India Blog

THOUGHTS AND OBSERVATIONS – A “MASTERS” VIEW OF INDIA

MARK/SARAH:  Wow, where did that first month go?  All too quickly is the answer.  We move on now to Nepal, but before we do, here’s a few of our thoughts, tips and general observations about India, a truly amazing and awe inspiring country.  If you haven’t been, go – everybody should at least once in their lifetime.

 

THOSE ALL IMPORTANT STATS

 

Miles covered in India alone:   4,870

 

Planes – 8

Trains – 6

Busses – 2

Taxis – 20

Tuk Tuk – 17

Rickshaws – 3

Ferries – 8

Boat – 3

 

But the key stat is that our reserves of Imodium remain intact – doubtless to be used somewhere else on the trip.  So that’s a big fat ZERO then.

 

DICE WITH DEATH – PUT YOUR HANDS IN THE AIR

It doesn’t take long for you to work it out.  The only way to cross a road anywhere in India, is to hold up the palm of your hand to the oncoming traffic and go for it. There are few zebra crossings and no flashing green men.  The choice is yours. Stay on one side of the road all day or trust in your hand.  And amazingly, even if traffic is speeding towards you at up to 40mph, if you weave across the highway – our record was six lanes of traffic – and hold your hand up, taxis, rickshaws, cars, lorries and even cows do stop.  It seems to work, but you need bottle and the knowledge that you will receive a cacophony of horns blowing your way.  But hey go for it.  Welcome to India!

Crazy

Crazy

SMILE PLEASE IN SELFIE CITY

Amongst a sea of brown, we have often been the only white faces for miles on end.  That does bring celebrity status.  Expect to be stopped every few hundred yards by teenagers, families and groups of young men for that all important “click”. We now know what it is like to be celebrities, with constant requests for selfies and group photos.  Great fun for the first few days, but it can be a little wearing. Mark (and men in general) do seem to be more popular in the photo stakes. But do practice your baby holding skills in advance, particularly the art of avoiding those with smelly nappies. Yuk, squidgy, smell.

Like the T shirt

Like the T shirt

THE ART OF NEGOTIATION – HOW NOT TO GET STUFFED

You need to negotiate all the time.  The price of a rickshaw, an item in the market.  Pretty standard really. But watch out for manipulative Tourist Taxi drivers that “suck” you in with a cheap deal, try to become your friend with quotes such as “Maggie Thatcher” and “Marks and Spencer” and then renege on your original deal by “adding” on spurious charges.  It does not happen often.  It did to us in Goa causing an interesting autication outside the Airport Departure Terminal in full glare of the local Army.  We left with a sour taste and having to politely, but firmly saying NO to the demands for more money.  “I Love Goa” the marketing hype shouts.  Ummmm….!

Do the deal and stick to it

Do the deal and stick to it

MUST HAVE ITEMS

It’s MANDATORY to take your own toilet roll with you everywhere you go.  But having said that, we did not once have “Delhi Belly” despite eating in local restaurants and trying wonderful street food.  The Imodium stayed in the box, but possibly because we used hand gel all the time.   Have a few tennis balls in your bag as it guarantees you the chance to open the batting and bowling for BOTH SIDES if you leave the ball as a gift. Water water water.  You do sweat like pigs even if you never normally sweat, so drink plenty of water and do ensure you have spare deodorants.  And finally, DO take photos of your family with you.  People loved to see pics of Joe and his ginger (Prince Harry) hair.

Better safe than sorry!

Better safe than sorry!

UNVERSAL LANGUAGE – HOW TO BOWL A MAIDEN OVER

Even if you’re not in to cricket, do go armed with a few names of the current Indian national side and essential questions for discussion including: “can you bowl a googly”, “what do you think of the IPL” and “do you ever think Sachin Tendulkar will one day be the Indian president?”  ALL Indians love cricket.  And any men reading this, will be surprised to learn that you can easily bowl an Indian maiden over, by showing her your “short leg” and “silly mid-wicket”.  Many people had not heard of Middlesbrough, so limit any reference to football if you want to win friends and influence people – although pleased to see my Tweet on the BBC Sport website after we had beaten Leeds.  UTB.

Cricket - a universal language in India

Cricket – a universal language in India

PLASTIC CHAIRS – YOU ARE A NOBODY IF YOU DON’T HAVE ONE, OR TWO, OR THREE

You’ve all seen them.  Those white moulded plastic chairs that cost about £15 from B&Q.  They are largely used in the garden or if you run out of house chairs at a child’s party.  In India they have many uses and it is clear that your life is not complete if you don’t own at least half a dozen.  They make great office chairs – in banks particularly. Shop keepers keep them for the elderly.  And if you have a small café then of course things are multiplied many times over, with striking shade of cream and black. Plastic Chairs often go on holiday and can be seen on top of cars and carried on scooters as families head off for their summer break.  They also have multi uses ranging from a commode to a set of cricket stumps and when their life is over they make great sweeping instruments in the streets of Delhi.  Ladies and Gentlemen I give you the multi-talented award winning PLASTIC CHAIR!

Plastic chair - ah yes, that must me a pew then

Plastic chair – ah yes, that must me a pew then

HEALTH AND SAFETY – WHAT’S THAT?

In the UK, the expression “health and safety gone mad” is one regularly heard.  Not a chance of that in India.  Representatives from the Health and Safety Executive would have a heart attack if they spent just one day in this mad country.  Where to start?  What about plug sockets that always “spark” when you take a plug out and are always placed next to the bath/shower?  I got one “bad shock” – not nice.  Or how about no guard rails on top of a 5,000 ft. mountain with hundreds of tourists wandering around and nothing to stop them falling.  There are no such things as illegal limits on tyre tread.  If it is inflated, use it and sod the consequences.  Doors that fly open on trains as you travel along at 70mph+ can be initially alarming. So can going to any form of public loo, where even having a “hover wee” (ladies) can mean you literally falling in to a cess pit of sewage.  We could go on, but we’d need to write a book.  The answer is to accept it and when your number’s up it’s up.

Look, no guard rail - a 5,000 ft. drop below

Look, no guard rail – a 5,000 ft. drop below

WHY ARE YOU HERE? WHERE DO YOU COME FROM? WHAT DO YOU EARN?

Being a Yorkshireman, I much prefer directness in speech.  Say what you mean and get to the point.  It saves a lot of time and both sides know where they stand.  Love it.  And so it appears do the Indians.  “What do you earn, how did you fund your trip and what is the purpose of your visit?”  These have all been pretty much “opening lines” when meeting a local for the first time in Delhi, Goa and Coimbatore.  In most cases I answer directly back and off we go.  There is no “skirting around the edges.” I am sure it must be a lot easier when it comes to chatting up members of the opposite sex.  Instead of “do you come here often”, what will most certainly work is “do you fancy me”.  The answer is either yes or no.  And if it is no, then go on to the next one.  The old sales adage, “if you kiss enough frogs” works very well here so go with the flow, strip away your inhibitions and be direct.

Try Yorkshire - 5245 miles away

Try Yorkshire – 5245 miles away

MANY HAVE LITTLE – WHAT THEY DO HAVE THEY SHARE – Indian people, wonderful people

We will never forget the kindness of Garima and her family at Delhi station.  One day in to our trip we were thrust in to the madness of India head first, 20 railway platforms, thousands of people and a three hour late running train.  Up popped Garima, my new “Indian sister”.  Four weeks later I still wear her red and yellow friendship bracelet.  But the thing that struck us most is how ALL Indians share no matter who they are and what they have.  This is particularly the case on public transport.  We have been offered, crisps, curry, drinks, bananas and even “Bombay Mix” on the trains, busses and ferries we have travelled on.  In return, we have shared what we had and even though in most cases it wasn’t very much, the fact that we offered was good enough.  Garima’s Grandmas tea was wonderful, so were her crisps.  But the abiding memory of being offered her newspaper to sit on that filthy platform edge, will stay with us for ever.

A great highlight for us - meeting Garima and her family

A great highlight for us – meeting Garima and her family

 

India we love you!

भारत हम तुमसे प्यार करता हूँ !

இந்தியா நாங்கள் உன்னை காதலிக்கிறேன் !

Categories: India Blog

TALES OF THE RIVERBANK – One of our best days – EVER!

SARAH/MARK:  The gentle throbbing of the old Cummings diesel engine was soporific as the lapping of the Kerala backwaters combined with the cool refreshing breeze from the Arabian Sea.  Very soon the heads of the two weary travellers began to nod in unison, as totally relaxed, their eyes began to close.  Welcome to paradise.

Setting out...

Setting out…

It had been a most memorable lunch.  The old boat had stopped an hour in to the journey at the side of Lake Vembanad.  Five Giant Tiger Prawns had quickly been purchased from a small fish shop, where box upon box had been packed with ice to carefully protect that mornings catch from the searing midday heat of what was a very hot Indian Summer.

“They’ll do for starters” said Sarah, her face beaming with excitement and the anticipation of enjoying one her favourite dishes, personally cooked by her onboard House Boat Chef.

that one will do nicely...

that one will do nicely…

The day had started fifty miles away as Mark and Sarah had waved good bye to Saj and his family through the back window of yet another beat up old white taxi after an enjoyable three days in Cochin.  The couple, now nearing the end of their four weeks in India, had little real anticipation for what was to follow.  They both shared the same sentiment and belief that when you really hope something will be great, it very rarely is.  Conversely those spontaneous, last minute “let’s do it” moments often lead to great times – Alastair Black/Steve Elliott/John Hodson in AB’s back garden eating cheese.  This though was one of those great memorables, up there with the Grand Canyon and the “Treasury” in Jordan.

Anyway enough of the Enid Blyton, Five Go to Smugglers Top writing style.  No more lashings of “ginger pop” for Dick, Julian or indeed Mark for that matter.

But wow, the Kerala Backwaters.  Absolutely brilliant.  We loved every moment of the 21 hours we spent on-board our very own converted rice barge, plying the beautiful waterways of southern India.

The Blogger hard at it in our "living area!

The Blogger hard at it in our “living area!

We had heard from our good friends Lois and Keith Pope, and Ian and Ali Marr just how wonderful an experience it is to cruise effortlessly along.  By gum they were right.  Dear old Saj (from the Saj Homestay in Fort Cochi) had booked the boat.  We’d paid our 8,500 Rupees (£82) in good faith, but had no real clue what we were going to get.  The reality exceeded our expectations and wildest dreams. Our own chef and captain, a beautiful bedroom with A/C and excellent en-suite bathroom.  A glass and mahogany dining table (for up to 6 guests) and four lovely relaxing chairs to sit and admire the countryside from as we chugged along at a sedate 5/6mph.

The incessant noise and peeping of horns from the crowded streets of Delhi and Mumbai a distant memory, the only noise we noticed was the bleeting of goats and the “slap, slap slap” of washday as locals washed their smalls (and larges) in the somewhat murky waters, no detergent in sight.

Can't think of a suitable washing line to give you...

Can’t think of a suitable washing line to give you…

We loved waving to other boats – and watching the response which was enthusiastic and energetic.  Random “Disco boats” of dancing men were amazed to see Mark strutting his stuff in time to their music. Kids thought it highly amusing to try and “bomb” us off the banks – but their splashes barely reached.

River bombing Indian style

River bombing Indian style

In any case we were so mellow after drinking illicit rum we had smuggled on board, we didn’t care.  We also didn’t care that we couldn’t lay our hands (Debbie Barton) on any Bombay Saphire – a first.

‘Boro’ Boy Chris Rea was belting out tunes from “the Best Of” and mozzies were taking one whiff of our 95% deet and promptly doing a U Turn.

At 5.30pm, some five hours after leaving Alleppey, we moored for the evening as the sun went down.  Stunning.

and as the sun goes down.....

and as the sun goes down…..

Dinner was served at 8.00pm sharp.  The remaining three Tiger Prawns made a final appearance, this time cooked to perfection in ginger.  We shared our Kingfisher beer with Chef and Captain and then sat back to watch the sound and light show which nature had kindly laid on for us.  Forked lightening jagged across the sky in the distance, the rumble of thunder bouncing off the mountains.  The perfect end to the perfect day.

But our trip wasn’t quite over.  Sun up just 11 and a half hours after it went down.  The golden circle rose over the Keralan rice fields, whilst behind us, with no wind or boats the perfect silhouette formed out of the gloom in a perfect mirror image of palm trees and water.  Stunning again.

... and in the morning...

… and in the morning…

... we WILL remember.

… we WILL remember

So, time to bid farewell to our boat and head now for three final days to the bottom pointy bit of India – Kovalam.  Kerala the state describes itself as God’s own country.  Now we all know, including Sarah that this simply can’t be true.  But tell you what – it isn’t far behind.

The End.

The End.

Categories: India Blog

More Tea? Perhaps I’ll think twice before drinking my next “mug of builders”…

MARK:  Love a cuppa tea me.  Earl Grey my favourite brew, but happy to have a nice strong mug of “builders” if one is on offer.  No sugar though – sweet enough. Also developed a liking for the sweet Indian tea called “Chai” made from Masala tea complete with sugar and warm milk.

Monkey about to drink my tea!!!

Monkey about to drink my tea!!!

Walk in to any British supermarket and you will see row upon row of different tea varieties for the shopper to choose, ranging from Twinings, PG Tips and of course good old Yorkshire Tea.  A pound of your hard earned can get you twenty ‘T’ bags of pretty decent stuff and if you have more money than sense you can spend £5-£10 quite easily on some well packaged, cleverly marketed “health tea.”

 A proper tea bag!

A proper tea bag!

“More tea?”  Don’t mind if I do thanks!

But hey, hang on a minute.  Why have I never stopped and actually thought just how tea leaves get into my little perforated bag?  Or considered the people who actually pick tea and what their working and living conditions are like?  Perhaps because I have taken it all for granted – until now.

We’d some time to kill in Mumbai and so turned on the TV to watch the good old BBC World News.  It was showing a news “expose” on the India Tea Trade.  The joint “investigation” by Radio 4’s File on Four and BBC News in Assam was a real eye opener to say the least!  Here’s a quick summary paraphrased from the subsequent BBC Online article.

“Reporters found that in Assam, north-east India, workers are living in broken houses with terrible sanitation. Many families had no toilets and said they have no choice but to defecate amongst the tea bushes. Living and working conditions are so bad, and wages so low – typically tea workers in Assam earn just 115 rupees (just over £1 a day) that their families are left malnourished and vulnerable to fatal illnesses.  A total disregard for health and safety was prevalent, with workers spraying chemicals without protection and on some estates, child labour being used.”

The biggest thing though to shock me and indeed the tea pickers themselves was when the reporter in the interview showed the workers a nicely packaged, small bag of tea from a leading London Retailer.  The cost £7.50!  The workers could not believe the price.  It would take them a week to earn such an amount they said AND only a few minutes to actually pick that quantity of tea.  Shocking.  Out of order.  So just who is making the money here, the Tea Plantation Owner, the Importer, the UK Tea Brands or our friends the Supermarket Retailer?  One thing’s for sure, it ain’t the poor old tea pickers!

We left Mumbai, but a few days later came “face to face” with the World of Tea once again when we visited the Hill Station town of Coonoor.

Manicured tea plantation

Manicured tea plantation

We watched the tea pickers on the side of the mountains undertake long, back breaking work.

The real workers

The real workers

And often, close to the lovely manicured tea plantations there were a few “big houses”, we assume belonging to the owners/managers.

Compare....

Compare….

And then looking further down the hill much more humble homes belonging to the tea pickers.

..... and contrast!

….. and contrast!

It was really sad to see that on the edge of the plantation, that some entrepreneurs, were able to take advantage of the tea picking industry and by simply providing a traditional tea pickers “dress”, they could earn in a few short minutes, 200/300 Rupees (£2/3) by photographing tourists and visitor to satisfy the selfie “look at me” society.

An Indian Tourist posing for a photo just above the tea plantation

An Indian Tourist posing for a photo just above the tea plantation

The good news – back to the report a minute – concludes by saying: “Many of the UK’s leading tea brands including PG Tips, Tetleys and Twinings, have said they will work to improve the tea estates they buy from in India after the BBC investigation”.

I for one will now think twice the next time I enjoy a cup of rosie lea.

Categories: India Blog

Accident waiting to happen… DOES. Second disaster narrowly averted on Toy Train. TRL expertise needed NOW!

Masters Today

MASTERS TRAVEL CORRESPONDENT (INDIA) – Monday

International travellers’ Mark and Sarah Bailey (MASTERS20152016.com) have escaped serious injury twice in two days.

The Surrey couple, who are just three weeks into a nine month Round the World Trip, diced with death on the roads and rail network, in two close calls this weekend in Tamil Nadu, Southern India.

The first incident happened Saturday, on the notorious mountain road between Coimbatore and Coonoor when a local bus just in front of the Bailey’s taxi collided with a lorry.

The accident, on a hairpin bend with deep ravine beneath, caused no serious injuries, but local ambulances were soon on the scene to assist the walking wounded.  Initial reports believe the accident may have been caused by excessive speed.

Could have been worse - was speed the reason for this crash, or simply poor driving technique?

Could have been worse – was speed the reason for this crash, or simply poor driving technique?

24 hours later the Bailey’s were involved in a second near miss, this time travelling on the world famous UNESCO “Toy Train” between the hill stations of Ooty and Coonoor.

“I was looking out of the window, around a sharp bend when a man waving a large cloth in the middle of the track literally flagged down the train” said Mark (52).  “The train came to an abrupt stop and it soon became clear that the driver’s swift action had averted a possible disaster.  A tree had fallen across the lines and would have caused a derailment.  It was like a scene from the Railway Children, but this time no Jenny Agutter!”

Aftermath of tree crash passengers help clear debris

Aftermath of tree crash passengers help clear debris

Take a bow. Alert driver stops near certain derailment

Take a bow. Alert driver stops near certain derailment

Railway officials and engineers arrived in less than 30 minutes and together with the aid of local residents and passengers, managed to remove the tree clear of the track, before the train continued its southbound journey.

This latest incident on India’s “Toy Train Network” comes less than two weeks after a tragedy involving two British Tourists, who were killed on a specially chartered train between Kalka and Shimla.  The cause of this accident is still being investigated.

Commented TRL’s (Transport Research Laboratory) former Communications Manager, Sarah Bailey (55), “You literally take your life in your hands every time you travel on an Indian road.  Speeding, dangerous driving and drink driving are taking their toll, but you always think of train travel as safe.  Fortunately, the quick witted actions of the driver of our train and the unknown local man saved what could have been a terrible tragedy.”

 

EDITORS COMMENT:  The above report from our local correspondent, perhaps sounds slightly sensationalised.  But road and indeed rail accidents are far too common in the World’s largest democracy.

In the capital, New Delhi, the frequency of traffic collisions is 40 times higher than the rate in London. And worryingly, with just 1% of the world’s cars, India accounts for 15% of global traffic deaths.

Rising affluence has meant owning a car in India has become much easier.

But with bad driving habits, poor regulation and flawed road design, accidents happen all too frequently. Speeding, running red lights, drink driving, riding motorbikes without helmets and non-existent lane management accounts for more than 200,000 fatalities every year.

Stats for the UK show that in the year ending September 2014, 1,807 deaths were recorded on British roads. This is put it in to further context when you realise that there are just over 31 million cars on the road in the UK and only 70 million in India despite the vast difference in population size.

So what is the answer?  Well certainly further education of drivers is a key priority.  So is the urgent need for law enforcement which appears non-existent.  And there must be an immediate clamp-down on people driving with no licence as according to Indian Transport officials, 25% of driver’s licences are procured fraudulently.

Former TRL Manager Sarah Bailey is right when she says “you literally take your life in your hands every time you travel on an Indian road.”  But this should not have to be the case and the Indian National and Regional Government Departments must look to use internationally renowned Transport Research Establishments like TRL to try and find solutions to this worrying situation.

Road (and rail) travel should not put you off visiting this wonderful country.  But it would be good to think that future travellers to India, will be able to travel safe in the knowledge that India is doing all that it can to improve its current poor accident record.

Categories: India Blog

Going all Gooey in Goa

MARK:  Saturday 17th September 1988.  A pleasant enough day, with high cloud and glimpses of sun.  The temperature on the Wiltshire/Somerset border a pleasant 20 degrees centigrade.

Phil Collins was Number 1 with a Groovy Kind Of Love.  The England cricket team’s tour to India was cancelled, after Captain Graham Gooch and seven other players were refused visas because of their involvement in South African cricket during the apartheid boycott.  And Great Britain were competing at the Olympics in Seoul, winning 5 gold, 10 silver and 9 bronze medals.

And oh yes.  A certain Miss Sarah Barnard said “I do” to a fine looking Yorkshire man AKA Mark St. John Bailey at St. Philip and St James’ Church in Chapmanslade, near Westbury.

In reflective mood...

In reflective mood…

The Church Bell (singular) rang out.  Ian and Ali Marr threw confetti for all they were worth.  John Smithson and Simon “Lucan” Partington sat in the choir stalls, even though they could not sing.  Auntie Barbara – who loves a good wedding – kept saying “ahhhhh”.  And Angus Wheeler was as good a best man as I could afford…

27 years ago.  It seems like yesterday.  The excitement amongst guests for the wedding breakfast in the marquee on Sarah’s parents’ lawn was “in tents” and we hadn’t even had the speeches…  It’s funny what you remember.  One thing I do clearly remember is the opening line from my wonderful father-in-law Dennis Barnard’s speech.  “I am so pleased my daughter is marrying Mark Bailey, as it will mean she does not need to change her initials in her blue gym knickers”.  Follow that!

Fast forward 27 years and I would have never have thought that one day somebody would be mad enough to travel the world with me.

At the risk of embarrassing Sarah, I would like to pay tribute to her.  Over the years she has had to put up with a lot.  I am not, as many people know the easiest person in the world to get on with.  She has been a tower of strength when I have been repeatedly been visited by my “black dog”.

So today was a great day.  One of the few Anniversary days we have spent together since we were married.  Walking on deserted beaches.  The waves from the Arabian Sea crashing over the golden sand which stretched out for miles.  No one else there.  Just the two of us.  I’m lucky, very, very lucky…

Without a care in the World...

Without a care in the World…

 

Categories: India Blog

Mr Tesco, Mr Sainsbury, Mr Waitrose. NO! Mr Kumar is the best!

Sarah:  We are still married and still talking!  And on the 17th September (tomorrow) we celebrate 27 years of marriage – who’d a thought it???

I have to admit that two weeks into our little trip, I am still enjoying the experience.  Mark typically only gets on my nerves three times a day, which is better than the half a dozen I thought he would…. That’ll change I’m sure.

One of the joys of travel I’ve found, is the fact that you don’t have to worry about food shopping.  However, navigating menus in local restaurants with sign language can occasionally provide unusual and unexpected results!

Our shopping experiences so far have been very interesting.  I needed a hair dryer – I thought I wouldn’t but I did. The kind of hotels we are staying in do not come with such things as “standard.” Having asked a few people where we might buy such an item, we were directed to a very nice hairdressers… I had to explain that no, I didn’t want my hair washed and styled just wanted to purchase a hair dryer. We did eventually strike lucky after much searching, thanks largely to Mr Kumar’s fantastic shop.

Mr Kumar and helpers

Mr Kumar and helpers

Unlike the UK, there are very few chain brands along the high street.  India quite literally is a nation of independent shopkeepers, a bit like England was 50 years ago.   And when you step inside, each shop is like entering a time warp with products and goods racked high to the ceiling in a “higgledy-piggledy” fashion.  Ordered chaos, but within seconds the shop assistants can find exactly what you ask for.

I explained I wanted a hairdryer.  The bemused look from Mr Kumar, clearly told me he hadn’t a clue what I wanted.  But with me then pretending to “blow dry” my hair very enthusiastically, he immediately ran to the other side of the shop, climbed a ladder and proceeded to bring me back a 1990s blue plastic Philips hair dryer.  He took it out of the box, handed it to a colleague who then plugged it in to what looked like a four-gang extension cable.  The dryer burst into life.

Does the job!

Does the job!

With two speed settings, it was a bargain at 800 INR (£8 – Steve Elliott, exchange rate is correct as at 16/9/2015 @ 1227. Mark made me point this out Steve…) and so the deal was done.  Then a third man got involved.  His job was to give me a guarantee – really useful that as we won’t be going back to Shimla any time soon – he then carefully wrapped my purchase in brown paper with a piece of string.  Proudly, man three handed the package to man four who was the cashier at the till. He took my money and presented me with a beautifully handwritten receipt. Finally Mr Kumar came back and handed over my purchase and bid us a “happy holiday”.  What great service and so much more personal than a trip to Curry’s at Farnborough Gate!  But four people to sell a hair dryer? Yep, that’s India for you.

Mark - Difficult to improve on perfection, but Sarah gives it a go in readiness for our 27th Anniversary celebrations

Mark – Difficult to improve on perfection, but Sarah gives it a go in readiness for our 27th Anniversary celebrations

Food and “every day” items are just as much fun to buy as electrical goods. Bring on “Noel” the manager of Magsons Hopping off Shopping on – in Panaji, the State capital of Goa.

Those little essentials - thanks Noel

Those little essentials – thanks Noel

We needed some all-important shopping essentials, such as deodorant, toothpaste, biscuits and crisps!  At the shop door, Noel – born in December – asked us to leave our bag with the store’s security man, before personally showing us his little off licence (Champagne @ £65!)  When I explained we only wanted a few items he was equally helpful and after spending 275 INR (£2.75) we headed off with the promise we would return one day and Mark would watch a Test Match at Lords with him!

Yes, I can recommend shopping in India – anybody want to open a Kumar franchise next May?

Categories: India Blog

End of the line – but the start of a great experience!

MARK:  The human tsunami of faces just kept coming.  There was no way through until the last of the 2,500 commuters from the outskirts of Mumbai had cleared Platform 6.  This was just one train.  Another would be here in only two minutes and another flood of brown faces would surge towards us.  This was people watching on a mass scale.

Human Tsunami coming my way

Apologies now that this is another train themed blog.  But, if Sarah can walk around a station for two hours and get really excited, then keep on reading as this, Mr Jones/Mr Ford/Mr Nussey/Mr Duckworth is about the social side of Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (locally reffered to as CST) and not just the trains themselves.

A couple of weeks ago our imagination had been fired up when Dan Snow, presented a four night “back to back” BBC 2 Documentary about the busiest station in India – CST. See the first episode – http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/p02xxsb5/worlds-busiest-railway-2015-episode-1

This rail terminus has quite literally millions of passengers passing through it daily, either as local commuters or long distance travellers. It was built in Queen Victoria’s reign, the beauty of the façade is stunning and you can see why it has been designated a UNESCO Heritage site.

Victorian architecture at its finest

Victorian architecture at its finest

But it is the people, not the trains that make this place so interesting.  Where to start?

With trains arriving every couple of minutes, the sounding of the train horn as it arrives at the end of the platform is the cue for hundreds of men to launch themselves out of both sides of the moving train.

Another 2,500 commuters about to arrive at CST

Another 2,500 commuters about to arrive at CST

There are no doors and people literally take their lives in their hands as the train is still travelling at a rate of at least 15mph.  Their aim is to be the first away from the station as they head to their offices.

Who dares wins, Indian commuters taking their lives in their hands

Who dares wins, Indian commuters taking their lives in their hands

But whilst this is a chaotic scene, manners can be seen. Each train at the front has a “ladies only” carriage. Beauty and colour hit you as the ladies, young and old leave in the resplendent saris.  Advice:  Don’t mess with them as they are clearly on a mission.

Ladies first!!!

Ladies first!!!

Within four minutes, trains are empty and are heading out with just a handful of passengers.  Quietness descends and you can then see more life.  Sad life, young life, tired life.  Lifeless bodies sleep on the dirty platform floors like this gentleman below.

Remember, that many people quite literally live on the station platforms.  This “old boy” below, was ok thankfully….

Down, but not out. Remember this image when you snuggle up in your nice clean duvet tonight

Down, but not out. Remember this image when you snuggle up in your nice clean duvet tonight

But your heart felt sad when you saw the children there.  This little fella, loved the tennis ball I gave him…. Just look at his face.  Simple pleasures.

One day he will play for India

One day he will play for India

There was no time for reflection as a train from Pune arrived and there were the Dabawallahs loading up.  This was pure theatre.  What happens is a bit curious.  The Dabs go around “middle class” houses on the outskirts of Mumbai, picking up the “lunch boxes” at the homes of workers in the city.  They board trains to CST and then load them on to head boards – up to 20 lunches each and rush off in to the city offices to find their clients.  It works, no lunches go missing and everyone is happy.  Might try to introduce a similar franchise on SWT….

Meals on Wheels Indian style

Meals on Wheels Indian style

Then the smell of fish wafted up our nostrils – fish replacing incoming commuters as the days catch is taken to surrounding towns – we headed back to the station concourse to pay our respects at the black memorial stone, to those killed in the infamous terrorist attack in 2008. Many civilians, including children, were killed at CST by terrorists using AK-47 rifles to shoot recklessly, throwing grenades everywhere in the station as they fled.  It was another stark reminder that terrorist activities happen the world over.

Greandes caused total devastation and mass death

Greandes caused total devastation and mass death

So that was CST – sad to leave, but delighted to see this advertisement – think I might make contact as I miss the sales cut and thrust….

Will be talking to these guys about future opportunities

Will be talking to these guys about future opportunities

FOOTNOTE:  Now “chilling” in Southern Goa….more posts in a few days…  M and S

Categories: India Blog

Thinking of you – postcards from India

MARK AND SARAH:  During our first 10 days in India, we have been very fortunate to meet some lovely people.  But our thoughts are always never far from home. So rather than bore you this weekend with more copy and further tails of “how to wash whilst travelling”, we have selected a number of photos from the clicks we have taken and hope they speak a thousand words. Please “click” on image to enlarge.

As our travels continue, doubtless we will have many more moments where we say “ah such and such a person would like this…” More photos for more of our friends as we come across them.. Happy weekend!  M and S.

Joe Bailey

Joe Bailey

Alastair Black

Alastair Black

Ian Prescott

Ian Prescott

Dennis Barnard

Dennis Barnard

Joy Bailey

Joy Bailey

Phil Whitby

Phil Whitby

Andy Hamer

Andy Hamer

Judith Whitby

Judith Whitby

Yousef, Sophia and Ray

Yousef, Sophia and Ray

Grace Baker

Grace Baker

Steve Elliott

Steve Elliott

Suzy Green

Suzy Green

Stuart Bailey

Stuart Bailey

Categories: India Blog

EXCLUSIVE: Knickers, bras and pants! Brit’ Traveller reveals ALL!

SARAH:  Having left the emotional “stuff” to Mark my brief for this trip has been to focus on the more practical elements… As Mark has been writing his blogs, my role has been to ensure the security and well-being of all our worldly possessions, which essentially entails packing, unpacking and washing… So, I thought it worth sharing the all-important issue of how to wash clothes whilst you are constantly travelling on the road.

In fairness, there is not a lot to wash.  In my “wardrobe” I have, six pairs of knickers, three bras, five t shirts, three shirts, two pairs of trousers, two sweat shirts, three pairs of shorts, one pair of jeans (a very good last minute decision) and two dresses.  I managed to wear my newly purchased Montane trousers for seven days in a row and nobody seemed to notice, because here in India nobody seems to care what you wear or what you look like.  At least we have clothes to wear!

My theory is that if you keep your body clean, then clothes tend to stay “fresh” that much longer.  With temperatures ranging from 30-40C in the first week, that wasn’t easy as one does tend to perspire a little more…

By the time we reached Amritsar, we decided to wash some smalls and some t shirts in the basin and hang them to dry on a washing line we brought with us, which when stretched, is about 3m in length.  At both ends are two hooks and two suction pads which work fine if there is not too much weight. Improvisation is the order of the day as the photos show.  After about a day, the clothes are dry – job done.

Amritsar bedroom becomes Chinese laundry

Amritsar bedroom becomes Chinese laundry

 

The bras hit the fan - great drier, but only on slow spin speed!

The bras hit the fan – great drier, but only on slow spin speed!

Mark meanwhile thought he would use the Hotel Hong Kong Inn’s (Amritsar) laundry service for his trousers, a bargain at just 30 Indian Rupees (30 pence).  They came back cleanish, not my quality clean, but good enough.

At Shimla, the former home of the British Raj in the 1920s, more washing and for the first time in 27 years of married life Mark actually did some hand washing.  Not a pretty sight I have to say.  Mr B in the shower sporting a pair of black pants, scrubbing away in a bucket, bras, knickers, T shirts and socks.  Sadly a photo I took was censored by the Blog Police.

Got to say he ain’t a great washer my husband.  When dry some of the clothes failed the “smell test” and Mark now realises what standards are required if he is not forced not to do it all again…

Must say I have not been at all impressed with Cotswold’s bio degradeable washing flakes, which cost a rather expensive £2.50 for just 50 flakes.  So today rushed out and invested 20 Rupees on a massive soap bar which has washed the trousers much better I’ve found and the soap bar will probably last us until we get to Malaysia in three months’ time.

Gets the job done - the Tide has turned as Mr B found out...

Gets the job done – the Tide has turned as Mr B found out…

I am going to explore the possibilities of full laundry “outsourcing” when we get to Goa in a weeks time as rumour has it the whole lot can be done for a couple of quid which sounds a bargain.  After all, I think I deserve a bit of sun and relaxation after all this travelling.

Any laundry top tips welcomed.

Categories: India Blog

TOY TRAIN TO SHIMLA – ALL ABOARD!

NOTE:  We were both so sad to read of the deaths of the two British tourists who died just outside of Kalka.  It hit home for us even more as we had travelled the same stretch of line just a couple of days before.  Our thoughts are with the families of those who died and were injured.  Mark and Sarah – 13 September 2015.

BBC REPORT: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-34239177

MARK:  “Whose idea was this”!  Sarah moaned.  It was 3.45am and time to get up.  In just an hour and a half we had to be safely aboard the CSR Express leaving Amritsar for the four hour, 200 mile journey to the north Indian city of Chandigarh.  We were travelling in the footsteps of the British Raj in the 1920s, 6000ft up in the Himalayas.

It was a day I had been looking forward to for a long time, ever since I’d seen a BBC Documentary about the Famous Indian Toy Trains (narrow gauge) which go to some of India’s highest towns. The train from Kalka to Shimla is the longest trip, arguably the best – and we were going on it.

A rail car Indian style

A rail car Indian style

The journey from Chandigarh proved largely uneventful, except of course the station platform changed at 0505 from 1 to 3 which necessitated a 500m dash with all our bags over two footbridges.  Then I realised they had changed the carriage configuration.  Our Second Class AC coach should have been in the middle of the 20 carriage train.  It wasn’t, it was at the end and also at the far end of the damn platform…  We made it, just, and the train pulled out right on time at 5.15am.

In our coach, there were some fit looking (Sarah’s words not mine) guys who had two enormous trophies proudly taking up a whole table.  One was for the Northern India Basketball winners and one for the Northern India Volleyball winners.  They must have won their tournament. The rest of the journey was largely uneventful and so as the train crawled into Chandigarh, we were ready for the madness of another Indian station.  With back packs front and back on, we struggled off the train and made our way to the station entrance.  Porters really miffed that two Brits had done them out of business. We did a quick deal with a taxi man to take us on the next stage of the trip from Chandigarh to Kalka some 25 miles away, in order that we could join the Toy Train known as the Himalayan Queen which was due to leave at 1210.

Two hours early, we arrived.  Chai and coffee killed some time and I went off chatting to the locals.  Fifteen selfies later, I went back to Sarah sitting on a hard wooden bench reading her Kindle.

Sarah and Kindle @ the start of the journey

Sarah and Kindle @ the start of the journey

The Toy Train arrived right on time.  Described as a “Toy”, this is perhaps not quite the impression to give.  There were seven coaches pulled by a smelly old diesel train, running on a narrow gauge track.  It had over 250 people aboard. I quickly identified our Coach – Coach 1 – and was relieved to see our two names on the seating reservation list complete with our ages and translation in to Hindi – see below photo.

We're on there... Sarah, are you really that old??

We’re on there… Sarah, are you really that old??

We clambered on and sat down on a blue small plastic bench – seats 22 and 23.  And then suddenly all hell broke loose.  A hundred school boys aged between 10 and 15 piled on to our train.

Getting on...

Getting on…

Before the madness - our little carriage

Before the madness – our little carriage

They were swinging on the overhead parcel shelves, and fighting as to who was going to sit where.  Sarah’s face a picture, my mind going back a couple of weeks ago to a recent BBC Programme with Dan Snow at Mumbai station.  Suddenly a police man wielding a stick came in and they all ran out of the carriage to get in their own – thank God we could breathe again.  They were replaced by two Swiss backpackers, three middle aged French couples “doing India” and twenty local Indians.  Some families, some couples and a few single travellers.

Sarah’s face another picture when she realised we were going to be stuck in this 1930s carriage with our back packs blocking the gangway for a mere five hours 22 minutes.  We set off.  90km to go (around 60 miles) and 10 stations.  Even my O Level maths could work out that was an average speed of a little over 12 miles per hour!  But in fairness we were going to be climbing over 2000m.

As the train went round the first 48 degree corner, we narrowly missed two cows, a cheeky monkey (animal, not child) and a few locals pushing their bikes down the middle of the track, because that’s what they do here. But we were off and what a start.  The clickerty clack sound of the track like a metronome in consistency.  The 35 degree stifling heat in the carriage where only small windows gave any sort of relief through the occasional welcome breeze.

An hour in, the train was literally “zig zagging” up the contours of the mountains, doubling back on itself in order to make the steep gradient.  I had counted 17 tunnels – just another 86 to go.

Light at the end...

Light at the end…

round the bend backwards Mark hangs out with the locals

Round the bend backwards Mark hangs out with the locals

Suddenly disaster struck.  A flood of smelly effluent rushed out of the “hover toilet” and lapped all around our bags.  Not quite a sea of sewage, but whatever it was, it was to quote my sister in law Lisa, “not pleas’”.  Urgent steps were called for.  I rushed forward, tripped over the French contingents bags and managed to move up our backpacks together with the Swiss man’s bag, prior to another wave of yuk coming our way as the train went round a sharp left bend.  Bags moved, Sergio, the Swiss young man (from Zurich, Janet Elliott) was very grateful (sehr gut) and promptly lashed his bag to ours with our metal chain for security.  The British Bloke had won another friend.

Three hours in and the little train came to a stop at a hillside station – 1450m above sea level.  Cue mega clear out of the whole train who rushed out for plates of curry, water, potato cakes and anything else they could buy in 6 minutes 30 seconds before the train horn blew and everyone rushed back on.  As the train rounded a right bend at the end of the station, Indians were running up the track and launching themselves into the carriage.  All aboard!

Nearly as beautiful as Yorkshire - the view from our carriage for five hours

Nearly as beautiful as Yorkshire – the view from our carriage for five hours

The scenery was stunning, the sun shone, the temperature dropped with each 100ft we climbed.  The only thing missing was a few beers like the Watercress Ale Train.  But we had Nan bread, two packets of crisps and some Bourbon biscuits which we shared with our fellow passengers.  They reciprocated and the food feast began – not impressed with the French cheese though…

Finally we could see the hanging town of Shimla, across the valley.  Hundreds, ney thousands of multi-coloured red, green and blue buildings clinging to the side of the mountain.  We had made it. The British had returned home to their Colonial Summer Retreat.  Shimla a little piece of England, 5000 miles from home – the nearest we will get for eight months.

Hanging from the mountainside - Shimla the home of the British Raj @7,500ft

Hanging from the mountainside – Shimla the home of the British Raj @7,500ft

Categories: India Blog

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