Mamallapuram – day 94

Woke up surprisingly early and neither of us were bitten to death as we had imagined we would be… Think it was the vast quantities of deet that we sprayed around the room before we collapsed into bed! We got up and had, a refreshingly, cold shower before heading to a nearby cafe to grab breakfast and a much needed coffee! Walked through the centre of town towards the mandapams (pillared pavilions of temple forecourts) that are located on the main hill in Mamallapuram. As we walked through the town, we were inundated with requests to visit the numerous touristy shops which made us miss the normality of the non-touristy towns which aren’t home to hippies ‘living in India’. Continued until we reached the large immovable boulder which is known as Krishna’s Butter Ball. Took some obligatory cheesy photos of us pretending to hold the boulder which looks like it is balanced precariously on the rock slope.  We then spent about two hours doing some low-key hiking around the main hill that has many mandapams, some of which are from the 5th century. We gave some sweets to a group of three French tourists, one of whom had fainted, and who were being looked after by an Indian street seller who couldn’t understand why we would help complete strangers. We climbed up to the 8th-century Olakkannesvara Temple which had amazing views of the town and the sea.  We missed out on the modern lighthouse as it was incredibly crowded, deciding instead to head towards the Shore Temple. Clearly weathered by the salty sea air, the temple was really rough around the edges but in a beautiful way. Originally construed in the 7th century, it was later rebuilt and houses two shrines to Shiva. Interestingly, this temple is supposedly the last in a series of buildings that extended along the now submerged coastline. Apparently, the 2004 tsunami revealed the outlines of sister temples when the water receded. It certainly made Jayne and I want to scuba dive the coast to see what we could find!!  Walked down the road to the five rathas. These temples are carved from single pieces of rock, each one is dedicated to a Hindu God and has an animal mount carving. The life sized carving of the elephant is regarded as one of the most perfectly sculptured elephants in India. Walked back to our ‘cell-block’ to have a quick shower before heading out to find a beach side restaurant to have some dinner.   Saw a cow eating a car decorations – clearly it had been working its way down the row of parked cars based on the size of its belly!! Ate fresh calamari and prawns whilst looking out at the crashing waves, watching a group of school children get soaked as their teacher looked on in despair. Returned to watch some more of the dance festival before going to bed. Saturday 9th January 2016

Travelling – day 93

Got up ridiculously early as there was no way that either of us were prepared to take another night bus and the only other option was to catch a bus to Chennai at 7.30am. Having side stepped and climbed over several member of staff asleep in the reception area of the hotel, we had to wake up one of them to check out. Turns out we woke up the wrong guy, who then proceeded to wake up every other staff member to get us checked out. Managed to walk past the security guard on the front door (who was snoring – very reassuring!) and started making our way to the private bus station. Left ourselves enough time to walk to 2.5km so that we didn’t have to rely on catching a TukTuk at that time in the morning. The early morning stroll was surprisingly nice, watching the city come to life. We walked past a beautiful Jain temple which wasn’t listed on any map or in the guide book. The sun rising over the temple gave it a gorgeous hue. Arrived at the bus station/shop and sat outside waiting for the bus to turn up, looking at different places that the bus company travel to – the best place. Somewhere north of Chennai called ‘Cumbum’… Jayne wouldn’t let me change our travel plans to visit it – the big meany!!! We grabbed a chai from the street vendor and tried to feed a stray dog my weird cheese crackers but even he refused to eat them!!  After a bit of confusion about which bus we were supposed to be on, we were on the right bus heading in the right direction. I had a quick power nap before being woken up for the first toilet stop of the journey. Back on the road, we pulled out the netbook and finally finished the Harry Potter film that we’ve been watching since New Years Eve!! Arrived in Chennai seven hours later and fell into the KFC next to the bus stand (oops!). After a totally delicious and indulgent lunch, we walked down the road to the public bus stand to catch a bus to Mamallapuram. Went to the tourist information desk to ask which bus stand we needed and the guy was more interested in finding out where we had been in India and where we were from rather than helping us!! Eventually found out where to go and managed to jump on the right bus just as it pulled out of the stand. A slightly bumpier and more squashed 2 hours later, we were walking down the road into Mamallapuram. Found our hostel, a very grubby and mosquito infested prison cell which was unfortunately amazingly located!! Dumped our bags and headed straight over the road to watch the Annual Indian Dance Festival – a highly regarded dance festival that show cases dances from all over India. We watched the dance in the open air stage in the shore temple complex. Was nice to sit on the grass watching and listening to the classical music performances.   After the final dance of the evening, we headed back to our hostel and had pizza for dinner before collapsing into bed by 9.30pm.  Friday 8th January 2016

Bangalore – day 92

Woke up early after our lazy day yesterday and we were both feeling in much better form. Got up, showered and dressed and went into reception to use the wifi to catch up on publishing blogs and to sort out travel plans for the next few days. The wifi was ridiculously slow this morning so it was almost a blessing when there was a power cut and we had to head out for the day. Went down the road to get a coffee, cake and samosa at Cafe Coffee Day. Had a new member of staff serve us so it took nearly 10 minutes to put the order through the till and then another 20 minutes to get the food and drinks. Fortunately, the vanilla latte was well worth the wait although I’m not entirely sure why we needed 8 extra sachets of sugar!!  Decided to go towards the Bull Temple which was near by. Built in the 16th century by Kempegowda it is described by the Lonely Planet as ‘Bangaluru’s most atmospheric temples’. The temple complex itself was covered in pigeons and guys selling various religious tat. We decided to head in separately so they we could keep an eye on our shoes. Jayne went in first and returned relatively quickly with a smile on her face. Headed in to see the huge granite monolith of Nandi… It was a good thing that we went in separately. I could barely keep a straight face and I wouldn’t have managed if I’d looked at Jayne. It was by far the strangest thing that I’ve seen in a long time – the facial expression was especially amusing. Left the temple and walked down the road to the Dodda Ganesha Temple which has an equally enormous Ganesh idol. The temple was closed to the public for a private ceremony so we only got to look through the grills of the gate at his enormous torso. Left the temple area, booked our bus tickets to Chennai for tomorrow and popped back to the hotel to use the toilet. I dragged Jayne across the road to the clothes shop to replace 2 of my t-shirts that are now too big for me and flash a bit too much skin for a conservative country! Just before we went into the shop, we noticed a massive ‘fatty chapatti ratty’ hanging out on the street, totally unfazed by everything and everyone around him.After that, we walked to the Lalbagh Botanical Garden. Laid in 1760 by Hyder Ali, the gardens are 96 acres of landscaped areas with centuries-old trees and collections of plants from around the world. We wandered around the gardens, avoiding the tourists being driven around on the ten-seater eco friendly buggies. In the middle of the gardens is a beautiful glasshouse which is modelled on the original from Crystal Palace.  We found a hibiscus garden which had the most enormous snake skin floating in the water… Made us vacate the area rather quickly!!  Saw on the map that there was an aquarium but it was an abandoned building in the middle of the gardens – eerily beautiful metal fish decorated the doors and enclosures surrounded the outside part of the building. It looked like a part of the set from Jurassic World. Started walking back to the hotel before the sun set and watched a couple of episodes of ‘F.R.I.E.N.D.S’ before heading out to dinner. Had a progressive dinner… Starter, main course and pudding all in different restaurants. After seeing it advertised, we had a chizza at KFC then returned to the same restaurant as last night for Dum Aloo and vegetable rice.  We finished the night with ice cream at the dessert place next to the hotel before rolling into bed!!!  Thursday 7th January 2016

Bangalore – day 91

The night bus was surprisingly painless however neither of us slept very well. Jayne broke out in a cold sweat a few times and I just froze my arse off with the over powering air conditioning – my fleece unfortunately packed away at the bottom of my rucksack stored underneath the bus… Won’t make that mistake again!! Arrived in Bangalore around 7am and slowly wandered through the streets to our hotel. The streets changed quite a bit during our 5km walk – near the station was the ‘whole-sellers’ selling flowers and fruit to the street vendors who then set up their stalls further into town. As Jayne was feeling a bit sick and I was still feeling sorry for myself because I had to say goodbye to Clare we decided to treat ourselves to a McDonalds breakfast. Two egg and sausage (chicken) McMuffins, hash browns, coffee and some hot cakes (pancakes) later, we weren’t feeling any better so we headed to the hotel to check in and take a much needed nap. I managed about an hour before I woke up and, since Jayne was still fast asleep, I headed out to the reception area to use the wifi. When Jayne woke up, we flicked around on the TV, which had cable and found a channel playing old American chick flick films. Watched ‘Wild Child’ and a couple of episodes of ‘F.R.I.E.N.D.S’ before heading out to dinner. Tried the hotel restaurant first as the menu they left in the room looked good, plus they served alcohol. However, the music was so incredibly loud that there was no way that either of us could stay and eat so we left the building!! Walked down the road and found a Punjab restaurant. Had a really nice meal and got some extra brownie points from the manager when we offered to move tables so that a large family group could be seated straight away. Walked back down the road past all the vegetable stalls and watched women shell piles of broad beans. Headed back to the hotel where we Skype-called both sets of parents and wasted some time of Facebook before going to bed.

Wednesday 6th January 2016

Goa – day 90

Woke up in the middle of the night feeling incredibly worse for wear… Think it was a combination of too much sun, too much food and too much alcohol and my body wasn’t happy!! Woke Jayne up who kindly rubbed my back and got me a drink of Coke whilst my body decided what it was going to do. Crawled back into bed, putting the bucket next to the bed and tried to get in a comfortable position to fall back to sleep. Woke up later on, feeling less sick but very tired as we spent the morning packing up our stuff, decanting all the different shampoos and lotions into one bottle and cutting up our massive India guide book! Went to check out of the guesthouse only to find the restaurant area, where the manager is usually based, closed. Having had a few issues with recently, we wanted to make sure we had a receipt for our stay. Also, we weren’t really sure what to do with the room key. The lady at the shop opposite started shouting into the complex and a taxi driver tried ringing the manager on his mobile. About 10 minutes later, he turned up only to disappear again on the back of his scooter to get the receipt we requested 5 days ago. Finally checked out, we headed down to the beach shack where we had arranged to meet Clare for lunch. She had literally arrived minutes before us having run up the beach from her hotel. Tried to have something substantial to eat as we knew we’d be on a night bus later but my stomach still wasn’t feeling great so I had omelette and chips – which was delicious and just what I needed. Jayne’s sweet and sour chicken wasn’t as good as it had been on New Years Eve but it still filled a hole! Walked down the road towards the bus stop where we all said an emotional goodbye to each other. Fortunately the bus arrived quickly otherwise I might have dissolved into a massive puddle of sweat and tears. Got about 1km down the road before a group of about ten 20-something year old Indian men jumped on the bus. Clearly about to miss a train, they obviously gave the bus conductor and driver enough money to turn our bus into an express ride off its normal route to get to the railway station. Slightly uncomfortable and bumpy especially as I seemed to have a bucket full of water under my seat?!? The group of guys got to the station within 10 minutes and seemed pretty happy as they threw their luggage off the bus onto the pavement. Much slower journey after that to Margao and then we caught the direct shuttle bus to Panjim. Got a text from Clare that made me a bit weepy again although it could have also been the breeze from the open window… Had a couple of hours to kill at the main bus station which we did by making up lists of our favourite places in alphabetical order. We also tried an adjective version based on the guys being pervy around us! Got our Volvo bus to Bangalore at 18.30pm and the first stop?? Margao bus station!! We hadn’t needed to drag ourselves to the North Goa bus station after all!! Settled into our seats after I told the woman in front that her young son needed to stop pinching and hitting me as he ran up and down the aisle. Jayne fell asleep (think she might have the tummy bug that I had this morning) whilst I did some reading about Sri Lanka ready for when we go on 27th January.

Tuesday 5th January 2016

Goa – day 89

Another lazy morning, catching up on some much needed sleep and washing clothes etc. Headed down the road to the bus stop to catch the bus to The Leela to collect Clare for our last full day together before we head off to Bangalore and she goes back to London, via Mumbai (blub!!). Walked down the beach with Clare and Karen before we stopped for a cold drink at one of the many beach shacks on the 7km stretch of sand back to our guesthouse. We watched the parasailing guys take up a family of Indians in quick succession, all of us impressed with how they could unclip one harness and attach another without the parachute deflating!IMG_6893 Clare and Jayne tried to convince me to have a go… I was really tempted but common sense kicked in!! Took a few more beach/sea photos of the four of us and, I’m pleased to say, that I was decidedly more graceful today – no cut knees! Although the salt water in my scrapes were pretty sore. IMG_6886After a while, Karen went back to The Leela whilst the three of us continued our walk up the beach, just chatting about nothing in particular and enjoying the sunshine. Jayne and I started collecting sea shells to complete our tradition of making a place and date sign for our photo album. We found a quiet place on the beach and, whilst Clare topped up her tan, we got to work writing ‘India 15/16’ out of shells. Clearly none of us noticed that the tide had come in because we were just adding the finishing touches when a massive wave came in and washed the whole thing away… Fortunately, Clare got photo evidence of the entire disaster and we were all laughing too much to start again – opting to get a beer (or two!) instead!! As we made our way the last 500m up the beach to our regular beach shack, Jayne spotted dolphins close to the shore line. dolphinsWe got into the water and watched them come closer and closer to us however they got scared off by another tourist trying to swim out to them. It was still amazing to see them so close! Got to the beach shack, ordered beer and lunch snacks whilst enjoying the view. Had a quick dip in the ocean, where Jayne got nibbled on the bum and leg by a fish, before we went back to our room to shower and dress for dinner. Caught the public bus back down to The Leela and we sat on the beach listening to the waves whilst Clare got ready and collected the others. As we waited, we saw a wild Indian brown mongoose climbing up the tree that an eagle had made a nest in… Returned to the same restaurant as last night where we both ate and drank far too much! A slightly less pleasant taxi ride home with a driver who clearly didn’t want to drive us all the way for the agreed amount, even though it’s a fixed price taxi service. Climbed into bed and pretty much passed out for the second night in a row!

Monday 4th January 2016

Goa – day 88

A slightly lazier morning, making cold coffee from the sachets that Clare had brought us from England and rubbing various exotic lotions into our skins from the free toiletries ‘stolen’ from various posh hotels across India. Even had time to go down to the guesthouse restaurant for our complimentary breakfast of toast, boiled eggs and coffee. Think the owner was very worried that we hadn’t been down here breakfast before today – having always left to visit Clare rather than eating! Walked the 1.5km to our bus stop, spotting two massive lizards basking in the sun and Jayne’s new favourite bird (which we have no idea what it is!!!). Got on the local bus and headed for The Leela. A new security guard team on the gate so we were back to feeling like criminals while we waited for Clare and Samantha to turn up!! Started the 7km stroll back up the beach to our guesthouse, enjoying the waves lapping at our ankles.

We were joined for most of our walk by a stray beach dog which we named Pooja whilst Jayne and Samantha went looking for crabs. Stopped along the way to take some photos of the 4 of us in the water, attempting several jumping photos which resulted in me falling over and cutting my knees on the sand – ever graceful and elegant!!!

The photo stop also resulted in a massive water fight which Jayne evidenced with the camera from the shoreline – so, not wanting her to miss out, we dragged her into the sea with all her clothes on! Dried off pretty quickly in the sun as we continued the walk up to our beach. Jayne managed to find a massive crab which, when I tried to hold it, managed to grab my hand with its pincers. It bloody hurt as I jumped about screaming at Jayne to ‘get it off, get it off!!’. It finally released me from its ‘death’ grip, leaving a lovely puncture wound in my palm – clearly not a great day for me injury wise!!! Had beer (to calm my nerves!!), fruit milkshakes and snacks at the beach hut restaurant before going for a swim in the ocean. It was beautifully warm and very relaxing.  Came back to the guesthouse so that Jayne and I could shower and get ready for dinner whilst Clare drank rum and Coke on the balcony chatting to Samantha. Caught the local bus back down the The Leela and, whilst the girls got ready, Jayne and I headed to the beach for a soft drink before dinner. Met up with Karen and Armond who had very kindly invited us out for dinner to the nearby seafood restaurant. The waiter was concerned that the prawns I ordered were going to be too spicy but after three months in India they were decidedly mild!! Had a wonderful evening chatting about a wide variety of different topics. We caught a taxi back to our guesthouse and fell fast asleep after too much sun and wine!

Sunday 3rd January 2016

Goa – day 87

Got up early, jumped on the local bus back down to The Leela Hotel Resort to kidnap Clare and expose her to the India that we’ve been used to over the past three months!!! Stood by the corner of hotel waiting for Clare to show up and chatted to the security guards who recognised us from last night – which made us feel a hundred times better than when we turned up yesterday – as least they didn’t stare at us like we were going to run inside and play havoc inside the grounds! When Clare arrived we jumped straight back on to the same bus and headed for Margao (the capital of South Goa), about 30 minutes away from her hotel. Once we arrived, we took her straight to a street food cart and fed her aloo dumplings, chilli samosas, fried chapatti and chai tea!

Fully stocked up on dirty street food, we jumped on another local bus to take the scenic tour to Old Goa. The bus journey itself was quite nice and Clare enjoyed going through the local towns. However, the journey itself was a bit TOO scenic and all three of us where definitely glad to be off the bus after an hour and a half! Old Goa was the formal capital of the Portuguese Indies and, between the 16th and 18th century, it was considered the ‘Rome of the East’. It’s reign was short but glorious – boasting a population that exceeded that of Lisbon or London but outbreaks of cholera and malaria forced the city to be abandoned in 1835, with the capital of Goa moving 10km down the road to Panaji less than 10 years later. IMG_3885We tried to start off at the Basilica of Bom Jesus but mass was being held so we crossed over the road and started with the largest church in Old Goa – the Sé de Santa Catarina. The largest church in Asia (at over 76m long and 55m wide), construction began in 1562 and the final finishing touches were added in 1652. The church itself was beautiful – with different alters dedicated to different saints and an exposed section of a crypt. We then wandered down the road to the Viceroy’s Arch where Clare and I spent time drooling over a Royal Enfield motor bike. IMG_3901We then went to the Church of St Cajetan, the Church of St Francis of Assisi, the Archaeological Museum, the Chapel of St Catherine, back to the Basilica of Bom Jesus, the Monastery of St Augustine before climbing up the hilltop to the Church of Our Lady of the Rosary to look at the view over the Mandovi River. All of the churches were beautiful in there own way and showed a very Portuguese building style with some Indian influences. IMG_3931Suitably shattered from walking around in the heat, we jumped back on the bus to Panaji and went to a restaurant to order Clare a paper masala Dosa, Puri and Uttapam – all food that we normally buy at street food vendors. Got the ‘express’ bus back to Margao and jumped straight back onto the local bus that would take us the rest of the way to our sections of South Goa. Reluctantly left Clare on the bus although she got back to The Leela before us since we have to walked 1.5km from the bus stop to our guesthouse! Jayne and I tried to watch some more of Harry Potter but we were both too tired and only managed another 30 minutes before falling asleep!

Saturday 2nd January 2016

Goa – day 86

Happy New Year!!! Having passed out at 9.30pm last night (damn you beach beers and cheap rum!!(yes, we still had rum when we got back)), waking miraculously just before midnight to watch the fireworks from our balcony before climbing back into bed, we woke up this morning feeling much more refreshed!! Slowly got ourselves ready and walked the 1.5km to the bus stop to go down to the tip of the Goa peninsula to go to The Leela and meet Clare! Jumped off the bus right outside the hotel entrance. The security guards clearly didn’t trust us one bit – no self respecting guest of The Leela would get on a public bus!!! Told them that we were meeting a friend for lunch and after writing down our names, Clare’s name, our telephone number, shoe size etc. we were pointed down the path towards reception. Saw a golf buggy drive past us for ‘paying’ guests to be ferried around on – oh, how the other half live!!! Arrived at the hotel reception after the obligatory bag scan and body search, noting that we didn’t get a necklace made of flowers placed around our necks, and were escorted to the concierge. A slightly embarrassing 5 minutes, since the booking is not in Clare’s name and we had no idea of the surname of the family that she was travelling with… A quick text and being placed on a sofa where we could be watched at all times, we waited for Clare to turn up (and rescue us from feeling like criminals!!!). It was so good to see Clare after three months – have missed her so much! She took us for a tour around the resort grounds and showed us her room… I’m not jealous… At all!!! Clare has been hoarding all the posh toiletries from the hotels that she has been staying at and gave them to us – best present ever! I smell wonderful at the moment with the most decadent body lotion I’ve ever used!! Headed over to the beach side restaurant where we were booked in for a champagne brunch. Ate far too much food again, although we both mainly went for the fresh salads, fruit and rare steak – the food our bodies have been craving! Also, both Jayne and I did over indulge on the dessert section too – thank goodness we had no breakfast and we didn’t manage dinner either after that feast!! Walked down the beach slightly and had a few beers in the little beach hut, making plans for the next few days and watching the sun go down.    Started to head for our apartment around 7pm. Went to the bus stop on the corner outside the resort only to be told that there were no buses but we could get a taxi (surprise, surprise!!). Decided to try walking to the next big ‘town’ down the road and try our luck there. After walking for 20 minutes, no bus had turned up and we were talking about pricing a taxi from a nearby hotel when a bus turned up!! Not sure whether it was supposed to take passengers as it didn’t have any lights on inside and we were the only two onboard but it dropped us off at the right place and we walked the rest of the way home. Bumped into the couple we met yesterday at the beach and chatted to them briefly before coming back to our studio room to shower and go to bed.

Friday 1st January 2016

Goa – day 85

The sun gave rise to shades of Ochre and Gray. The watchmen of the highway, transformed slowly from omnipresent figures to swaying beings full of life. The subtle hues of Citrus and Crimson drifted with the clouds as Lilac skies bathed through the window. The journey was almost at an end… we were nearing Margao. 

 The 23:45 bus was delayed. Reports from the office staff, conductors and street chai vendors differed from one to three hours. Thankfully it was only delayed by two hours. Settled in as best as possible to our bunk bed – with Katherine praying that the window didn’t pop outwards on to the road and myself contorting my body in various poses and angles during the night to secure on to the metal arms of the bed and not fall out. Simply put, it was a painful journey and would compare to Bodh Gaya to Kolkata, with the added sting of being extortionately priced.  

Got a bus with relative ease from Margao to Varca and walked from there. We needed to stretch out muscles from almost 24hrs in various uncomfortable positions and we’d be far too early to check in to the guest house.   Had a lovely breakfast on the beach and strolled up the road to check in. Not the most accommodating of hosts, he asked for a tip when he showed us in to the room. Not offering to carry a single bag and pushing the wrong buttons on someone severely sleep deprived for who knows how long, I said no. Katherine was in agreement.   Showered and refreshed, albeit in desperate need of sleep, we walked up the road to catch yet another bus that apparently would be on strike and we should be getting taxis everywhere. Hopeless! Katherine had this idea that you should receive coloured bangles or bracelets from the police station based on how long you spent in the country and this would show them (like an officers uniform) that there’s no point in trying to kid us. 

In Margao again, we stocked up on supplies for our five days in our simple apartment. The priority of course, the most time spent deliberating was… dark or white rum for 170 INR Rps. £1.70 on rum, £0.80 on a big bottle of Coke… New Years Eve sorted.

We planned on just letting the Indian Ocean lap about our ankles for a brief respite and then head to a restaurant back up the road. Alas, only one beer later and I’m stumbling on the sand to stay upright for a photo, writing this blog saying it’s Christmas Eve and so on and so forth. We’ve just had Carbonara, Sweet n’ Sour Chicken and polished off Kingfisher Beer #3 at the beach side restaurant.   The sounds of the waves crashing. The easy listening country western music coming from the restaurant behind us. The star patterns gently shifting across the night sky. We’ve completely forgotten about our original plans and have lost ourselves in blissful solitude. A welcome respite from three months hard travelling.  

 Happy New Year 2016!  

Thursday 31st December 2015