Month: December 2014

HAMPI: HOLY ELEPHANTS, BIG ROCKS & HELL’S ANGELS

DSCF8708

Hampi is a weird place: covered in boulders seemingly dropped in neat piles from outer space; and scattered with temples in various state of ruin and repair. Hampi is also my favourite place in India.

We spent five very content days wandering its quiet and small bazaar, visiting seemingly endless temples, stumbling upon a Bollywood film being shot, watching Lakshmi, the temple’s resident elephant, having a bath and then receiving a blessing from her, and lounging around in a chai haze chatting with some very awesome Australian girls we met.

Without a doubt, our Hampi highlight has to be hiring mopeds for the day and being part of the biggest, baddest motorbike girl gang.  We zipped around the quiet roads framed by rocky hills, climbed the steps to the Hanuman temple, chatted with a Sadhu and looked through his photo album, and rode around the edge of a reservoir apparently home to a crocodile. It was absolutely ruddy brilliant.

DSCF8503

  DSCF8479DSCF8442DSCF8474

 DSCF8572DSCF8481DSCF8597

DSCF8614DSCF8586DSCF8583

DSCF8532

DSCF8607

 DSCF8668   DSCF8687

DSCF8673

DSCF8357

DSCF8370DSCF8395DSCF8406

DSCF8409

DSCF8929  DSCF8930

DSCF8932

DSCF8948

DSCF8862

DSCF8807

DSCF8815 DSCF8829

DSCF8838

DSCF8831

DSCF8856

DSCF8878  DSCF8869  DSCF8873

DSCF8886

S

MUMBAI

DSCF8037

The tour of the Dharavi slum (yes, the one from Slumdog Millionaire), was our Mumbai highlight. ‘Paying for someone to show you round the poorest parts of a city, isn’t that a bit crass?’ I hear you say… Well, this is something we wrestled with and researched and discussed. I mean, the English equivalent would be tourists paying to take a tour of some of Tower Hamlets grittiest council estates. That would be weird.

However, we found a tour company, Reality Tours, that was run from within Dharavi, by people that live or have lived there and the majority of the profits are ploughed back into projects in the slums. Any doubts and concerns about voyeurism quickly wore off when we met our guide and he explained the importance of the tours for him, personally. He too had lived in Dharavi and wanted people to understand that it’s not all jumping into pits of poo as depicted in Slumdog Millionaire. In fact, most Indians we have talked to were unhappy with the film, to them it’s an unbalanced portrayal of India as a poor, dirty and dangerous country.

The morning we spent in Dharvari was an astonishing and humbling experience. Home to nearly 1 million people in roughly 500 acres, it is one of the world’s biggest slums. Yes, people are living in extreme conditions, but it is alive with industry and ingenuity. The annual turnover is estimated at 500 million USD.

DSCF9635

Postcard from Reality Tours

The slum is divided into toxic and non-toxic areas. Certainly the toxic area was the most shocking in terms of the methods and lengths people are going to to earn some of those 500 million dollars. Absolutely nothing is wasted here: old oil drums are stripped, cleaned, repainted and sold back to the fuel companies; plastic bottles, toys, household objects, well plastic anything really is hand sorted, broken down, melted and re-set into small colourful pellets, washed and then dried in the sun by people raking it with their feet on the roofs, before being sold back to manufacturers; and aluminium is melted down in make-shift furnaces in dark rooms with almost zero ventilation, poured and set into bouillon blocks and sold within the slum for business to melt and re-use to make machine parts. The smell and heat in the aluminium furnace was overwhelming, like something out of a post-apocalyptic film or a Victorian factory.

DSCF9641

Postcard from Reality Tours

The non-toxic area is home to pottery, leather and catering industries. Pastry buns are made, baked and then distributed to the whole of Mumbai (though without mentioning that they were made in a slum). We saw clay being softened by men walking up and down in bare feet then made into a variety of pots and baked in brick kilns.

DSCF9640

Postcard from Reality Tours

Sure, these people are living in over crowded conditions with little or no infrastructure – one toilet block serves over 1000 residents and it sure ain’t pretty. The walkways between houses is one person wide making privacy an unobtainable luxury and it is incredibly overwhelming. However, the over riding impression in the residential area is that of cleanliness – the glimpses we had through the curtained doorways were of freshly scrubbed floors and pot plants. Games of cricket were taking place in the open spaces, women washing clothes then smacking them dry on flat rocks and children peeked out of doorways waving and saying ‘hello’.

DSCF9638

Postcard from Reality Tours

Towards the end of our tour we visited a school which the profits of our tour had helped to build and run. A dance class was taking place and children of all ages were watching intently trying to learn the latest moves. To say it was cute was a massive understatement.

Understandably we were not able to take photographs during the tour, but we did buy some postcards and these are the images you can see in this post.

DSCF9637

Postcard from Reality Tours

During our short stay in Mumbai we also drank a tower of beer in the infamous Leopald’s Cafe, as featured in the best-selling novel, Shantaram, queued with thousands of Indian tourists to see the Gateway of India, saw thousands of sheets, pairs of jeans and shirts drying at the city’s biggest laundry and visited the station featured in the final scenes of Slumdog Millionaire and designed by the same dude who built St. Pancras, Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus. 

DSCF8094

DSCF8069

DSCF8067

DSCF8044

DSCF8062

DSCF8058

RAJASTHAN & THE MONKEY MAFIA

DSCF7644

Rajasthan is the state that packs the biggest punch in terms of history, maharajas, palaces, forts and other regal bling. We just dipped our toe into the state by visiting Jaipur and Bundi, but feel like we got a pretty good taster.

HIGHLIGHTS FOR THE EYES

Amber Fort

DSCF7642

 

The Amber Fort in Jaipur is huge, majestic and beautiful. The view of the Fort from the outside is matched in awe by the inside decoration, such as the mirrored walls and ceilings.

 

DSCF7697
DSCF7685
DSCF7691
DSCF7681


Jal Mahal (Water Palace)

Also in Jaipur this palace sits in the middle of a lake. The surreal positioning makes it look like a mirage.

DSCF7743

 

Bundi Palace

Propped up high on the outskirts of town the palace has a particular charm due to being neglected and in a state of decay. The colourful painted murals of the Raj and British Army are offset by crumbling surrounds and the smell of bat poo.

DSCF7985
DSCF7957
DSCF7853
DSCF7859
DSCF7970
DSCF7979
DSCF8019
DSCF8021

 

HIGHLIGHTS FOR THE HEART

Our guide at the Amber Fort was selected by us on the basis of his magnificent moustache. It turned out we couldn’t understand most of what he told us. However he had oodles of charisma and gravitas and was keen on taking photos of us in ridiculous positions whilst anywhere from 50 to 100 bemused tourists looked on.

DSCF7740

 

Jaipur has a temple high up on a hill, known as the Monkey Temple. Upon arrival a gang of boys tried harassing us into buying protection for the walk up the hill like some sort of monkey Mafia Racket. We resisted and braved the troupe of aggressive monkeys by ourselves. To counter balance the aggressive monkeys with huge cahoonas was a smaller one dressing itself up in a sari and a baby monkey riding a pig.

 

DSCF7775
             DSCF7777    DSCF7798
DSCF7789
DSCF7812
DSCF7809DSCF7810DSCF7811
DSCF7807
DSCF7790

At Jaipur’s City Palace the most notable part of our visit was seeing TV’s Clare Balding and her wife, also on a tour. We spent most of our time watching her and debating whether to speak to her or leave her alone. Given that we couldn’t think of anything original to say we opted for just taking a sly photo.

DSCF7751

SUMMARY

Our eyes and hearts were filled with lots of memories in our short time there. I reckon we will be back one day to top them up with more.

DSCF7650
DSCF7700
DSCF7705
DSCF7746

DSCF7887

DSCF7897

DSCF7908

DSCF7919

 

SIX MONTHS ALREADY?!!

DSCF2626

Just over six months ago we packed up and shipped out of dear old London town and now, five countries on, we are alive, happy and in a slight daze at the fact that we are still on this big long holiday.

For me, the strangest thing about this big long holiday is that it isn’t strange at all. I mean, obviously the different cultures, languages and experiences are strange, but the fact that our holiday seems to be going on for longer than the obligatory two weeks seems well, normal, now.

For the most part, these six months have been a complete blast of fun, wonder and pinch-yourself-you-are-very-lucky-moments.  Sure, we’ve had a few tiny grazes with bad luck, but compared to the horror stories travellers love to share, we are practically cruising through without too much collateral damage. To date, we are two iPhones down, but far worst things have happened at sea (and in India).

I guess in many ways this trip was quite a test for mine and Angela’s fledgling relationship. Spending 24 hours in each others company, in strange, new and often very confusing situations, armed with only our instinct and some scribbled notes from Tripadvisor, it turns out that we make quite the team. The division of labour happened quite naturally: Angela deals with the money and other maths related activities like adding and subtracting; I research and book accommodation; and everything else we work out together.

It’s been so fascinating to see how the other reacts in such different environments and situations, it turns out that Angela LOVES learning Spanish, horse riding and long train journeys and isn’t much of a fan of rice. Of course there have been tantrums, tears and grumpy moments (mostly from me) and times where one of us has attempted to storm off in a huff (and then realising we can’t actually go too far, so stand slightly up the road or peer round a corner), but it’s been an intense and brilliant way to get to know each other better.

So, here’s to the next six months. It’s got a lot to live up to!

DSCF8473

 

 

ONE PHOTO?

DSCF7635

‘Hello, one photo, one photo please.’

‘What, of us? Oh ok then?’

This happens to us regularly in India. Mostly if we are at a monument, it’s the weekend or in a very busy area. Usually there will be some whispering and then, the most confident of the group will approach saying ‘one photo, one photo’. A group will huddle around us, stand perfectly straight, all with completely serious faces, and little to no smiling. It’s weird, but it’s really fun. Occasionally it can be a bit full on when there is a queue of people waiting, but hey, at least now we know how the Beckhams feel…

Another plus point is that if they ask for ‘one photo’ we take photos too:

DSCF8649

DSCF8562  DSCF8565

DSCF8558

DSCF8507

DSCF6609   DSCF6605

DSCF7281

DSCF7795

DSCF8848

DSCF8849

DSCF8775