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THREE CHILLIES

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A cooking class was top of my Chang Mai to-do list; the town is famous for it’s food, cooking and the numerous schools that line the streets.

It was such a fantastic day, a group of nine of us went to the market, bought the ingredients for our day of cooking (read: a lot of lemongrass and a big bag of chillies) and then set about making them.

I chose to make Pad Thai, Papaya salad, Tom Yum soup, Green Curry and a dessert of Mango with sticky rice.

My favourite dish, Papaya salad, can be made as spicy as you can handle (or not, in my case) and I discovered that I am a two to three chillies kind of a girl, which is still pretty damn hot. The lady teaching us how to make it? Not two or three, but TEN chillies, sometimes 15 if she’s in the mood.

Although the amazing food and brilliant teachers were great, the best bet of the class was my fellow classmates, such a lovely bunch of people from America, Taiwan, Philippines and Israel. I know you are not allowed favourites, but meeting the Kotowski’s from America was pretty inspiring: the family of four with two gorgeous kids, Will and Kate, are on a year-long trip around the world.

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Fresh fish….

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Pad Thai

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Mixing/smashing up the Papaya salad.

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Papaya salad with three chillies.

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Prawn Tom Yum

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Chilli and garlic chopping

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Green curry

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Mango and sticky rice

HISPAW, A SHAN PRINCESS & THE ROAD TO MANDALAY

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We decided to extend our stay in Burma in the hope that we could see a slightly less touristy side of the country and that Burma might redeem itself after Inle’s rude-a-thon and meet our (perhaps unfairly high) expectations. 

Our favourite travel equation is definitely: small town + easily walk-able x lots of places to explore = happy times, and Hispaw, a small town in the Shan state, certainly had all of our favourite things, even a bacon sandwich!  Almost a one road town, it was dusty but beautiful in it’s rough, raw and rural way. We spent three very content days pottering around the town, having a much-needed refreshing beer as the sun set on the river and trying the weird things on sale in the market.

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We also signed up for a one day trek to various villages and a waterfall, though the latter turned out to be non-existent, just a damp bit of rock, the rest of the walk around the valley was absolutely stunning. It was almost as if the locals were employed by the tourist board to be photogenic. The farmland was dotted with people hand picking rice in straw hats and buffalo sitting in the shade. Plus, we were joined by a brilliant guy called Yutah, a Japanese-American, who had lots of stories of life in LA and Tokyo.

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Most villages do not have access to electricity and running water so it’s solar panels and wells all round.

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Our highlight of Hispaw was definitely meeting Miss Fern, guardian of the Shan Palace. The gently decaying estate is tucked in next to the river at the end of a dirt track. Complete with an over grown and unloved tennis court and gardens the palace looks like an old English country pile. The Shan Palace was home to the last Prince of Hsipaw, Sao Kya Seng, and his wife, Inge, an Austrian national. In the Prince’s absence, Fern and her husband, Donald, the Prince’s nephew, welcome tourists into their home to share their family history.

Fern’s softly spoken account in near-perfect English was surprisingly candid and she didn’t shy away from talking openly about the military junta that ruled Burma until 2010 and who still have a strong hold now. She talked to us about the imprisonment of the Prince in 1962 and how he was never seen again – when all the other princes were released, he was not. His family later learnt that he died in custody, though the government continues to deny that he was ever imprisoned in the first place. His wife and two daughters left Burma not long after his arrest and have never returned. Every year on the anniversary of Sau Kya Seng’s imprisonment the family write to the government asking for confirmation of his whereabouts. They have never received a reply. Inge later wrote a book about the whole saga, called Twilight Over Burma: My Life as a Shan Princess.

Fern’s husband, Donald, used to show tourists around himself but in 2005 he was also arrested, this time on the charge of ‘operating as an unlicensed tour guide and defaming the state’. For this he received a 13 year prison sentence, though he was released in 2009. The palace only reopened in 2012 as part of Burma’s slow emergence from paranoid military rule.

It was an absolute pleasure to spend time with Fern and hear her story. I was blown away by her calm stoicism. The fact that they continue to welcome tourists after Donald’s arrest is quite something. Turns out she is also a Shan Princess from a neighbouring state, so we can legitimately say that we have met Burmese royalty. She also has a love for reading, especially the English classics, on account of the fact that modern romance novels have too much ‘boom boom’ for her. I promised I would send a copy of my favourite book, Jane Eyre, which she hasn’t read yet.

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Family photographs including the Prince and Princess Inge’s wedding photo (top).

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To continue our journey and reach our final stop, Mandalay, we chose to take the train part of the way. It was a slow and bumpy ride. Scary at times too. The carriages literally swayed on the tracks, though I managed to have a nap, it was almost impossible to read. Mind you, the scenery was stunning and the locals smiling and waving as the train bumbled through was an incredible experience.

The icing on the proverbial cake was certainly the Goteik Viaduct. Given that the train seemed to be only just managing to stay on the rails going over a high metal structure was pretty terrifying. 

Though our destination, Mandalay, was probably one of our least favourite places we have been so far, the extra week in Burma was a breath of hot and dusty air, and one which helped us understand this complicated country a tiny bit more.

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Our train companions.

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Teaching me how to write in Burmese. I think.

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We’re going over that?!!

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Open door policy. Sure.

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BAGAN: TEMPLE TOWN

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Bagan is a mind-bending town in the middle of Myanmar with over 4,000 Buddhist temples in a few square miles of land.

The classic beautiful shot taken of Bagan is across the green fields with the red temple tops piercing through. Having seen this image a squillion times I was a bit anxious that the reality would not live up to the photo. I needn’t have worried though as being there surpassed any feelings conjured up by a picture.

Our first foray into the temples was on bikes with a fold out map. We got up ridiculously early and set off in the dark, looking cool with our head torches on, to capture the sunrise. We found a decent sized temple and clambered up bare foot to join some other early birds; one of whom was a middle-aged American, only too pleased to narrate his thoughts and feelings on the world to a captive audience.

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The sun came up and lit up the foreground to reveal the pointy tops of a never-ending array of temples. Shortly afterwards dozens of hot air balloons launched off and drifted all around us. The balloons were so close that we were able to shout hello to the passengers and hear their reply.

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We spent the rest of the day following our noses to explore the back paths between temples and running across small villages. We felt very privileged to have such easy access to a wonderful world and without hordes of people around us. The equivalent in Europe would be roped off and guarded with a hefty entrance fee.

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The second time we ventured out we treated our bums and legs to E-Bikes, which are basically electric powered mopeds. The bikes were easy to ride and hilarious fun. Again, the freedom to roam and get lost felt whilst “speeding” along at 30mph was great.

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We also did a little exploration on foot to find a small village community tucked between the town and river. There was not a single tourist in sight and the locals were a little bemused to see us, however the kids playing on the riverbanks were too engrossed in throwing mud at each other to notice us.

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To top things off we were wise enough to try out a restaurant called Wetherspoons as our wisdom was rewarded with amazing BLTs, salads and whisky sours. Needless to say almost our entire food and drink budget was spent here.

For me this place matched the awe felt at Machu Picchu and its surrounding villages; it has a powerful vibe and immense beauty accompanied by low-key locals just getting on with daily life.

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INLE: BOATS, BIKES & WINE

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Inle Lake is the main event in the Burmese tourist trail and it’s easy to see why: a huge glassy lake surrounded by hills with villages on stilts hugging the water’s edge. We spent 4 days pootling around on bikes exploring the area and, of course, went on a couple of boat trips.

We booked a whole day trip, starting before sunrise, which took in a nearby village with some crumbling temples, a lively market, and also avoided some of the more touristy stops. The boat journey took us almost the whole length of the lake past the infamous fisherman who paddle and steer their tiny boats with one leg and then through twisty little corridors of rivers. We cruised through what can only be described as a 1950’s style Water World, but without Kevin Costner. However, it was a bit of a mixed bag of a day, as we also stopped at ‘workshops’ which were little more than a room with some dusty souvenirs and a pushy sales person, the general vibe of these places was a tiny bit negative and a few people were actually quite rude to us.

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Little bit chilly.

Little bit chilly.

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Crumbling temples at In Dein village.

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One of these workshops was also home to some ‘long neck’ women from the Kayan tribe who were weaving in the back room. The women are from a community south of Inle where they wear thick gold rings around their neck, gradually increasing the number until their shoulders are pushed down, making it look like they have very long necks. Obviously these women were relocated solely for the purposes of tourism and, whether it was their choice to move or not, it’s hard not to feel like a voyeur. It was a very complicated feeling and, whilst it is great that via tourism they have a new means of income, I can only hope that it really was their choice to leave their community. 

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Our tour also stopped at an incredible market that was bursting with life, flowers and food. We wandered around the stalls, which were often no more than a blanket on the floor and their latest harvest of corn or this mornings catch of fish – still slightly twitching. We also popped into a tea shop and joined the locals for a breakfast of tofu salad and rice crackers. Weird, but actually quite delicious.

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Spot the tourist.

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In Burma children, women and sometimes men paint their faces with Thanaka, a paste made from ground bark. It is used for cosmetic reasons, but also gives a cooling sensation and provides protection from sunburn.

Rudeness and voyeurism aside, Inle had three very big redeeming features, the first was the company we kept, David and Tom. We had such a great time chatting, trying out Inle’s various restaurants and playing their favourite game, Quirkle.

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The second bonus was a lovely winery perched on the hillside looking out over the lake. The wine was medium to okay and the garden area was fantastic – it was like we had been transported to Tuscany – we even had a plate of pasta to celebrate.

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And the third: a village on the lake called Mieng Thauk, which was the perfect antidote to the touristy boat trip and definitely the highlight of Inle.  To get there we cycled for about an hour along winding country roads until we reached the long wooden jetty which takes you to the village edge. From there, a local women offered to paddle us around the village. It was absolutely incredible: quiet, but buzzing with life. Women pulling buckets of lake water up into the house on pulleys; a tiny kid paddling a boat out to the outside toilet; cats perched on window sills; families paddling home from work; and kids being taken to the only dry ground so they can run around and play. Our guide dropped us off at her family’s restaurant and we had a beer watching the world float by. Oh and I made friends with their small child. Absolutely perfect.

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Arsenal fan off home after a long day on the water.

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Off to school.

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Angela keeping us afloat.

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Best bar in the world EVER (so far).

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My mate pootling around her home.

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The view on our cycle home. Perfect end to a perfect day.

Oh and we also took a boat out onto the lake for sunset, which meant we got treated to a bizarre and touristy acrobatic show by the fishermen.

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YANGON: FROM THE STREETS TO THE STRAND

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We travelled into Myanmar (aka Burma) from Thailand using one of the land border crossings that recently re-opened. We walked over “Friendship Bridge” and into the town of Myawaddy. The town, like I suspect many other border towns, has a wild and dangerous feel to it. There’s a tense buzz in the air and an unfriendliness that exudes from the men milling about and making onward arrangements.

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The next morning we took a minibus from Myawaddy to Yangon. The entire 13 hour journey wound through the hills and countryside and we got to experience for the first time the views of vast plains with small hills plonked here and there. We also saw the serene old-fashioned way of life lived by most people: teak huts; bulls pulling ploughs; and chickens and children running amok.

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After our scenic journey from the border our first impression of Yangon was that it’s a traffic choked city with a dilapidated feel and all the usual grime. We decided to try and lift our spirits by visiting the city’s most revered sight: a giant gold Buddhist pagoda called Shwedagon. However, on arrival we discovered that the top part of the building was covered for renovation. It didn’t help that we had also stepped back into a world where we were the main focal point and source of amusement to many locals (my delicate ego struggles with too much pointing and laughing).

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We spent the rest of our time wandering the city on foot. We saw markets with dodgy-acting  gem traders, oodles of street food stalls, people mingling in the park, a pavement lined with makeshift homes and protest banners, young men playing football in the wide backstreets between grand decaying colonial buildings and night-time beer guzzling outside restaurants.

One evening we rewarded ourselves with a few cocktails in the imposing Strand Hotel and its sophisticated bar. Our initial concerns about being kicked out for our dusty shoes and the “we’ve-been-travelling-in-these-clothes-for-8-months” look seemed to melt away by the time we had finished our second drink.

Despite the slow start, we fell in love with Yangon; it has a personality unlike any other city we have visited  – with its occupants’ simple lifestyle at odds with the majestic colonial buildings and a feeling of safety and friendliness despite its chaotic roads and footpaths – all of which means I have been hankering to go back ever since we left. 

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BANGKOK BANQUET

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What a brilliant surprise Bangkok has been!! I was expecting a seedy, dirty, chaotic city full of travellers seeking out all the worst aspects. Instead I found a modern, vibrant city with so much more to offer than ping pong shows.

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By far the greatest treat has been the variety of food on offer and how amazing it tastes. There are food stalls on most streets serving up all kinds of fast food and lots of little cafes and restaurants frequented by locals and tourists alike. I’ve never seen such an array of food, at least half of which I did not know existed until this week.

We had seafood Tom Yum at a street stall and it was fresh, zingy and filled with lots of little sea critters. There are dozens of papaya salads to choose from; those we have tried have been spicy and delicious. Then there’s the roasted or grilled or BBQ meat which is better than I have ever tasted. I could go on but I’m sure you get the picture.

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All this for £2.20.

The second biggest delight has been seeing the diverse society and apparent acceptance amongst Thais. I’ve seen more lesbians in the past week than you can shake a stick at. For once I felt like part of the crowd and not someone that stands out. There are also lots of transsexual people holding down generic jobs and not working in the sex industry as tired cliches would have us believe.

Of course there is still the underbelly of sex shows and prostitution but it is in its own area of the city for those who want to experience it and seemingly absent from most other parts. We passed through this area on our way to the neighbouring gay village where we had a few gins with a friend of Maura’s, Tim.

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As is part of the traveller experience we bumped into friends we made somewhere else in the world – Danny and Teresa from Spain who we met in India. Together we headed to one of Bangkok’s night markets called Talad Rot Fai (the Train Market). The place was HUGE!! It was about the size of Spitalfields + Camden + Borough Market x 2 and covered the same range of goodies i.e. food, clothes, furniture and curiosities.

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Finally I just need to mention the giant lizards we saw today loafing by the river. I have no idea what they were but the biggest was over one metre long and a foot wide and was terrifying.

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NOTES ON INDIA

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DELHI > RISHIKESH > DELHI > VARANASI > AGRA > JAIPUR > BUNDI > MUMBAI > MANDREM > PANJIM > PALOLEM > GOKARNA > HAMPI > MYSORE > BANDIPUR > COIMBATORE > FORT KOCHI > ALLEPPEY > MUNNAR > KOCHI > PALOLEM > MUMBAI

We did it! We ‘survived’ India and even escaped a bout of the infamous Delhi belly. India is close to undefinable, but the best description would be a total sensory overload. Nothing can prepare you for the smells, confusion, shocking sights, startling efficiency and bonkers disorganisation, deafening street sounds and the explosion of colour. Nothing.

However, we had heard so many horror stories before we had stepped off the plane, that, not only were we prepared for all the scam methods, it just wasn’t as ‘bad’ as everyone said. Begging wasn’t as in-your-face as you’d expect, I’ve seen much worse toilets on the M4 motorway, we ate anything, everywhere and anywhere, yes, including meat and, apart from one morning of stomach cramps, we had zero illness, we loved being asked for our photo and no one tried to touch us up on the train.

Without a tiny whisper of a doubt, the highlight of India is the people, yes, the food is a very close second, but the people are the friendliest, craziest, silliest, kindest and hardest working-est people we have come across on our travels.

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We absolutely loved it and are already talking about when we can go back. Here are some of our observations from the 75 days we spent in India:

PHLEGM: hocking up the contents of nose, throat and lungs occurs loudly and regularly. Particularly bad in the mornings.

NAMASTE: the beaming smile you often get when you say ‘Namaste’ to an older Indian lady that has been staring at you inquisitively.

THALI: different in every town, the best way to try lots of different curries, and they give you free refills. In the South, it is served on a banana leaf which you have to actually fold up to stop them piling on the food. Average price £1.00.

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LIES: ask an Indian anything and he will give you the answer he thinks you want or the answer he can be bothered to give. eg: ME:Is that the Amber Fort (whilst pointing at Blue Fort)? THEM: Yes. OR, do you know where we can make international calls? THEM: No. ME: what about this place that you are sat outside of that has a sign saying international calls? THEM: No.

POO: staring wistfully out the train window as Indian countryside glides past only to spot a man crouching down doing a poo. This on repeat for much of Northern India. 

1.21 BILLION: people. People everywhere. Personal space does not exist and queuing can be unpredictable with lots of pusher in-ers.

PANEER: Paneer. Paneer Masala. Paneer Kati Roll. Paneer Pakoras (or Pakodas as they call them). Paneer Tikka Kebab. Paneer with Paneer and some more Paneer on the side please.

WARM AND WELCOMING and so friendly. Indians are a chatty lot and, because the majority speak at least basic English, it is very easy to talk with people and find out a bit about their lives. Plus, they are super inquisitive and want to know everything about you too.

MONKEYS: more common in Northern India, they are pretty aggressive and freaking scary. However, when they do human-like stuff such as turning on a tap and drinking from it – that, THAT is amazing.

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BEDS: oh the beds, the beds are awful. Thin mattresses are commonplace – well, not really a mattress, more of a 8cm thick piece of material.

MEN LOVE MEN: technically homosexuality is illegal in India, which is pretty ironic given how tactile men are with each other. Holding hands, stroking each others faces, leaning on each other. Guess that is what happens when you make public displays of affection between the sexes is taboo – you have to get your physical contact from somewhere. Mind you, the ladies aren’t at it…

WATER: geez, it’s not until you cannot drink tap water that you take for granted how brilliant clean drinking water is. I started dreaming of the day that I could brush my teeth without a warm and old bottle of mineral water.

BREAD: Naans, chappati, parartha, roti and puri all served hot and with optional delicious fillings or covered in butter and garlic. They are light, thin and not doughy like the squidgy ones we get at home. One naan will set you back 30p, 10p extra if you want garlic.

HOLY COW: if one thing defines India, it has to be this. Cows. Every where (apart from Mumbai). Seriously. Cows lying down in the fast lane on busy main roads, cows knocking at doors with their horns to get food, cows causing traffics jams down narrow lanes, cows, cows, cows.

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CURRY: think you’ve tried them all? Nu ah. It’s impossible. My favourite was Kadhi Paneer, which is a spicy red sauce with tomatoes and red peppers. Mind you, the best bet was often just vegetable curry. One portion will set you back 80p. Add in a chappati, that’s a £1 for your dinner.

LIME SODA: is the national drink of India and costs 30p. Approx 1 whole lime goes into each glass which is almost enough for me, the lime enthusiast. Rubbish for Angela as she is allergic to citrus. I drank her quota.

MOPEDS: the transport o’choice for the modern Indian. Unlimited amounts of people allowed on at one time and tiny children actively encouraged to ride precariously perched on the back or on the handle bars and definitely with no helmet.

THE SUN: due to pollution, the sun turns into a big orange red ball at about 3pm every day. Very ‘end of days’ and very beautiful.

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SHOPPING: This happens at least 27 times a day: “Hey madam, come see my shop, you look, you like, you buy.” Oh great, thanks for explaining the concept of shopping.

LOVELY JUBBLY: and other really old English sayings. Also popular is no worry, no hurry, chicken curry. Or, in Goa, fish curry.

BRITISH EMPIRE: the majority of the Indians we met were very complimentary about the British occupation. Weird. Initially we were a bit cautious about telling people where we were from but further conversations proved that they credited British with some of the things they love about India, which is basically the railways.

TRAINS: one of our favourite things about India. It really is just like a Palin documentary: you do meet amazing people, you can hang out of the open doors and the chai is the best in India.

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DRIVING: like they want to kill you. Yup, it’s bad and we’ve seen some crappy driving in South America. If there is a car in front they must overtake. Even if the car is going normal speed, you are on a blind bend and there are five cars in front. 

BREAKFAST: very nearly became my favourite meal. Particularly in Southern India where Masala Dosas are involved. Paper thin pancake things wrapped around spicy potatoes and onion and served with sambar, a spicy and sour curry, and coconut chutney. Add a masala chai into the mix and that’s a dream breakfast right there.

PRINCE LENIN: an actual person we met on a train from Dehli to Varanasi. He is a lawyer who devotes his time and money to taking cases against the state, basically the Indian Erin Brokovich, and he has been quoted in The Independent. Hero.

MASALA CHAI: chai, lovely chai. Controversial, I know, but Indian tea is better than English. Hot, milky, sweet and spicy, it is served in small glasses or paper cups. The best chai is from the chai wallas on the trains and costs between 10 – 20p.

BUSES: see above about driving and then add in rickety old bus with no suspension and from the sounds of it no break pads either. Also, seats are scarce and when available require squeezing three people into a two person seat. Well, mind you, Indians are much smaller and thinner than us Westerners, so probably is a three-seater for them…

HOLY MEN: the dudes with the long beards, hair and dressed in orange are men who have renounced their worldly life, said goodbye to both their possessions and their families, and now lead a life of celibacy, ascetic yoga, and a search for enlightenment. Except the ones that are actually criminals on the run…. Also, Indians swear that Sadhus never ask for money, but almost every Sadhu we saw held his hand out for money.

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TOILETS: not as bad as we thought they’d be. More Western crappers than expected too. Sure, there were some shockers, particularly at train stations, but not the horror show we had imagined.

HONK YOUR HORN: In India you beep your horn to let the driver in front know you are there. It’s almost like the rules on ski slopes – you basically only have to worry about what’s in front. There are a lot of cars and there is a lot of mental driving manoeuvres, ergo a lot of horns honking. In Delhi, when we were fresh off the plane, it was overwhelming to the point of exhaustion.

RUBBISH: everywhere. This has got to be the most shocking part of life in India. Refuse collection is almost non-existent, bins are a rare site and the sun heats it all up to nice stinky levels. Seemingly a community agrees to all dump it in one area, at the end of the road or a random corner somewhere. Mind you, people drop litter everywhere. Once on a train, Angela asked the train guard where we should put our thali trays and he simply opened the door and flung them out. 

CLEAN: means something different in India. There is a lot of washing, rinsing, sluicing but not much scrubbing. 

YOGA: despite it being absolutely everywhere, Angela and I managed to get to just two classes in two and a half months.

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A VERY GOAN CHRISTMAS

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The North and South of India are very different. The North is crowded and chaotic, with cities overrun with monkeys and historic forts and palaces everywhere. The south is calmer, cleaner and has more natural beauty than historic buildings. Goa is in the south but is different again from the surrounding southern states.

We got the impression that there is a lot of disdain amongst Indians for this tiny southern state. It is known for being full of westerners who like to party hard and have different morals from most Indians. I think Goa also has a bit of a bad rep with some westerners too, for similar reasons to many Indians.

We spent almost 3 weeks in a beach town called Palolem and exploring the surrounding area. The Portugese ran Goa until the sixties and they have left behind big villas and a Christian following. As it was Christmas there were stars hanging outside houses and nativity scenes that had been lovingly created. Still, in the 30 plus degree heat it didn’t feel quite like Christmas for two Brits. The locals wear western style clothes and are not bothered by tourists flashing the flesh in bikinis and skimpy clothes. There are also more restaurants and bars catering to western tastes.

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Although the place felt less indian the differences were enjoyable: being able to walk around in shorts and a vest in the heat was a welcome relief; after having curry every meal for 50 days straight I was ready for a full English with Heinz beans and HP sauce and the decorations hung outside our beach hut helped us with missing home at Christmas.

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Christmas Day started well…

Goa has been in a state of flux recently due to the state clamping down on noise and beach parties. Now the de rigueur is for headphone parties / silent discos. Although there were a fair amount of young people there to party there were also families and older folk. The most outrageous pissed up behaviour we saw was from the hordes of young indian men on New Year’s Eve who were taking full advantage of the occasion to run up to western women to give them full body hugs. Other than that Palolem was quite tame and not somewhere to head if you’re solely looking to rave it up.

Albeit somewhat western due to the booze, beans and boobies you still know you are in India when a couple of cows slowly shuffle past you on the sand looking for some shade behind a fishing boat, or someone sets off a firework a few metres from a restaurant which inevitably goes wrong and explodes on the floor showering everyone in pretty little flames and when the fresh seafood options include fish tikka, tandoori whole fish and Goan prawn curry.

cows on the beach

Photograph courtesy of Anthony Foster

more cows

Photograph courtesy of Anthony Foster


I should also mention that the beaches are stunning with golden sand, gentle waves and palm trees. Also we were extremely lucky to have a small gang of new friends with us – Zowie, Anthony, Russell and Tiffany – and the family from whom we rented the beach hut from were very generous and friendly e.g. cooking us dinner and taking us to a wedding. Needless to say we had an amazing time flip flopping about, chilling on the beach and eating some amazing seafood. Goa is now number one on our honeymoon destination shortlist!

Goan gang

Our little gang. Tiffany & Russell on the left and Anthony & Zowie on the right.

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Our home for almost 3 weeks.

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Sofia, Anthony, Swagger (with bread roll in mouth) & Samuel (with the big eyes)

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They get married so young in India….

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Only kidding…here are the real size Bride and Groom, Belina & Melvin.

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The buffet with at least 8 different types of curry.

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Day trip to Kola Beach – sea is red because of the sand (we hope).

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Freshwater lagoon at Kola Beach.

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Our favourite beach, Patnem.

Xmas gang

The Christmas crew: (L-R) Anthony; Zowie; Russell; Maura; and me.

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Sunset at Palolem. This on repeat for 3 weeks. Not bad, eh?

COOKING UP AN INDIAN STORM

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Whilst we were in Goa, Anthony, Zowie and I spent a morning with ex-chef Rahul learning five different dishes, cooking them all from scratch and then getting to eat it all. Perfect.

We chose to make the following dishes:

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The most surprising thing about cooking all these dishes in two hours was that everything required very little cooking. Sure, there was lots of marinading and mixing up about eight different spices, but I thought everything would need to cook for hours to get all the spices to ‘marry’. It was a great experience and Rahul was relaxed and very patient with us. Looking forward to trying to recreate this menu when I am back home…

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See all that garlic? We used ALL of it.

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The marinader

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Goan fish curry paste.

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Red Snapper fillets.

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Pureed spinach for the Palak Paneer.

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Cooking my favourite thing: Paneer.

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Beating up the dough for the stuffed paratha.

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Zowie getting stuck in.

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The winner of the 2014 newcomer for stuffed paratha roller.

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Finishing touches to the Biryani.

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Goan Fish Curry

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Tangadi Chicken (tastes better than it looks)

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Vegetable Biryani

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MAGICAL MISTY MUNNAR

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Munnar, famed for its tea plantations, has a surprising lack of tea tasting opportunities, but they put on a pretty good trek. We spent a day rambling up through the tea fields and down through spice farms with an eclectic mix of travellers, including the lovely Rosie from our girl gang in Hampi.

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The trekking crew.

We started in the early morning when mist was still hugging the ground. It soon cleared up and revealed beautiful views of pristine plantations. At mid morning we reached the peak of the journey and stopped for boiled eggs and bread. Yum! By the time we’d finished our grub we were engulfed in dense clouds, which made for some cool pics.

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Those tiny white dots in the middle are tea pickers.

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Before.

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After.

The way down was a bit treacherous as it was slippy and difficult to see the ground, consequently there were a few trips but none more spectacular than the young French women doing a sliding tackle on an older British guy and taking him out. He didn’t see the funny side.

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The beginning of the end.

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Magical floating poisonous caterpillar.

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SPIDER

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Taken shortly before the infamous British/French collision of 2014.

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The new Twinnings advert.

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Snacks and a rest at 1pm, still another 2.5 hours to go…

The trek ended back at our lovely cottage wedged into the side of a hill, where we were all rewarded with some more food and time to discuss our scrapes and swollen knees.

Also staying at the cottage was a French women (not the faller-overer) with her Rajasthani boyfriend. The guy was a serious dope smoker and had lots of cool stories which were pumped full of hilarious exaggeration and drama. The French women, who was much more low key had to rein him in on occasion.

Overall Munnar was a really cool place to chill out, catch up with new friends and make even newer ones. Its definitely worth sticking on the list.

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The view from our balcony.

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The view from our balcony.

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