Tuesday, 29 April 2008

Leopard spotting in Rajasthan

Looking out over Ranthambore National Park from the roof of our 'hunting lodge'. It's dusk - apparently the leopard's favourite time to come out and play...

Saturday, 26 April 2008

Some random Indian hut

Agra Fort

Mum and Adrian at Agra Fort with the Taj Mahal in the distance.

Saturday, 19 April 2008

I went on safari and all I got was this lousy leech bite

This morning we rose early (5am!) to be picked up by the jeep that would take us on safari. After a bumpy ride through a misty tea plantation we stopped off at a small concrete hut serving fresh local tea, coffee and freshly made paratha (being expertly made in the back of the room). The coffee was the best I have ever tasted - it had loads of cardamon in it and was so amazing I went back for more.

After that we entered the Wildlife Reserve - acres and acres of thick jungle which is apparently home to 46 tigers and over a thousand elephants, as well as many many other creatures.

We drove through the jungle in our jeep for a couple of hours hoping to glimpse something interesting. We saw a few giant squirrels which were pretty, but we were hoping for something a bit more exciting once we started trekking. After breakfast no. 2 we met our guide who took us off on an exciting 3 hour trek through the forest. We encountered far too many leeches (much to Adrian's horror), and lots of frogs, but sadly not much else. We both really hoped to glimpse some elephants or perhaps a tiger, but as our guide had lived in the jungle his whole life and only ever seen one tiger, we were perhaps being a little over-optimistic.

We did see a few more squirrels and even a couple of black monkeys, and then it was time to head back. A quick trip to the ladies revealed a rather alarming patch of blood on my trousers (please refer to revolting photograph) and on my t-shirt, which on further inspection seemed to be coming from my stomach! Some girls in another group had been exclaiming about a leech on the floor of the park's restaurant moment's before - it transpired that it was MY leech!
Horrible though they are, I couldn't feel a thing and it only left a tiny mark. We were so well protected with this crazy big socks over our lower legs (on the insistence of our guide) that I never thought to keep an eye on my stomach too.... slippery little blighters.

Kathakali in Kumily

Last night Adrian and I decided to further enrich our cultural knowledge of India by going to see a Kathakali performance.

Kathakali is a traditional Keralan artform. The artists basically act out a story using elaborate facial expressions and hand movements (no speaking), assisted by crazy make-up and very complicated costumes.

The make-up alone takes about 40 minutes to apply and the finished result looks spectacular. There's then a very long process where the performers get into their costumes, all of which is done in front of the audience. Before they started they gave us a detailed explanation of what some of the facial expressions mean (see left, our female protagonist is 'in love'), but I had to look away after a while as the angry one involved some crazy eye rolling which made me feel a little queer.

In fact, here's a video clip we recorded from the performance. In this scene, the hero (with the green face) is getting annoyed with the other character's sexual advances...

Beer O'Clock in the land of Teatotallers

Religion can be a devastating thing. It's responsible for killing sprees and all sorts of other bad things. More importantly, it can spoil a gentleman's (and a lady's) enjoyment of a refreshing beer when it is outlawed in a town in the name of religion. Kumily, here in Kerala (where we're doing our safari) is one such place where the cool, golden nectar made from God's own barley, is taboo (heaven forbid!).

But rules are made to be broken, and after some discreet questioning about where we could quench our thirst, Amy and I happened upon an innocent looking cafe (which will remain anonymous at the owner's request) where our patrons served us ice-cold beer disguised in a teapot and mugs (you might not be able to see it in the picture, but the mugs are actually Cornwall souvenir mugs!). Praise the Lord, Hallelujah!

More elephant-related activities

After our amazing thali lunch yesterday in a proper Indian restaurant (by proper, I mean you walk in, sit down and someone puts a banana leaf in front of you topped with rice and a selection of delicious curried treats costing about 50p - no menu) , we decided to go and see some more elephants.

A jeep picked us up and whizzed us down the road to a spice plantation that also houses a small family of elephants. Mother elephant, who was to give us a ride through the plantation, was not yet back from her walk so we made friends with her baby while we waited. She liked Adrian a lot, as you can see. I think he liked her too - she was very sweet even if she did leave something slimey on his foot. She even gave me a little ride! She was all leathery but very comfy.

Then mother elephant returned and we had a peaceful ride through the plantation and we even managed to steal some bananas from a tree overhead to feed to her when we got back. They eat the bananas skin and all! I can't imagine that it tastes very nice.....

Friday, 18 April 2008

Traditional Indian food - The Thali

When you think of Indian food, most likely, your mind will automatically wonder towards curries.
Well, yes there are lots of different curries here, but the most commonly eaten dish here in India is the Thali - a perfectly balanced meal made up of small dishes.

Each restaurant's thali is different, and they're almost always vegetarian. Here, you see a thali from an excellent restaurant called The Mango Tree in Hampi. I'll try to remember what we had working clockwise from the rice...

Rice with lime chutney, yoghurt, mung dahl, papdom, chapatis, more dahl, okra curry, spicy & sour tomato soup.

If you see one of these on the menu, order it! Masala Zone in Soho and Angel do fantastic Thalis.

Next... The Masala Dosa (they're SO good...!)

Cruising on the Keralan backwaters

Apologies for radio-silence people. We haven't been able to blog from our mobiles, nor have we been anywhere near computers over the last few days. But there's loads to update you all on... We're currently in the hills in Kerala at a little place called Kumily, near Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary. But let's start from where we left off...

First of all since we left Lakshmi the elephant, we had to endure 48 hours of buses and trains to get to our first destination in Kerala... This turned out to be a complete nightmare as we on our first overnight bus journey we broke down at 5am so we had to chance to a crowded government bus...which ALSO broke down, so we changed to another crowded government bus!

But anyway, two days later, after two trains, three buses and no sleep, we arrived in Allepey, the heart of Kerala's backwaters, where we hired a private boat, driver and a chef for 24 hours of tranquility and curiosity... We did very little apart from watch the birds, admire the landscape and watch people going about their daily lives (washing and fishing mainly) while we cruised slowly through the canals (however, we did manage to muster the energy to take a quick swim in the lakes). Our cook made some traditional Keralan food which included butter fish masala, a beetroot and coconut thing and various curries.

We ended up going to a tiny, remote community where our boatmen were from. Actually, it was a strip of dry land, a couple of feet wide, between paddy fields where some people had reclaimed enough land to build a hut for their families. No roads, huts and boats. Their lives were so far removed from ours, it's hard to know where to begin describing it... We should have some photos soon, which we'll upload for y'all...

Sunday, 13 April 2008

Elephantine blessings for Mimi

Today is a special day for us. Our good friend Mimi is running the London Marathon. In fact, as I type, she's probably somewhere around Docklands.

Naturally, being the good friends we are, we decided to see if we could give Mimi a helping hand. So we went to visit Lakshmi, a holy elephant who lives in a temple here in Hampi.

After removing our flip flops and walking on scorching hot stone floors (it hit 42C today!) we found her in her stables. Amy pulled out a 20 rupee note and Lakshmi raised her trunk, took the note and then blessed Amy's forehead with her trunk!

I sent Mimi a good luck text last night and guess what!? She replied saying that she burned a hole in her running top trying to iron on letters to it. Well, far from being bad luck, the lighter and more ventilated top should make her run faster! Wow! Our blessing worked wonders.

Here's a photo of Lakshmi from this morning (we woke up early and headed down to the river to watch her being washed).

Good luck Mimi!

Thursday, 10 April 2008

Amy vs THE COCKROACHES - fight report

Forget Mohammed Ali vs George Foreman, that's so 20th Century. This century's equivalent
'Rumble in the Jungle' took place last night between Amy Hall and The Cockroach. The epic battle lasted two rounds before the fatal KO blow. Here's a blow by blow account. Ding, ding!

Round One! Amy turns on the light to our room and sees a bright orange cockroach standing atop our mirror. Amy retreats back outside screaming in horror as the cockroach takes the upper hand. After Adrian attempts to smash the cockroach with the very heavy Lonely Planet guide to India, it retreats behind the mirror and Adrian just about manages to pull off one of its long orange antennaes (did you know that cockroaches can fly BTW?). Amy returns to the room with what she thinks is the killer blow: a security guard. The security guard enters the room, walks up to the cockroach and with a quick flick of his hand pulls it out from behind the mirror and throws it outside the door. Round one belongs to Amy and we think that this is the last of the battle... but little did we know that the war was far from won.

Round Two! After dinner (lobster and a jumbo prawn in garlic butter, if you must know) we return to our room to find another (or was it the same?) cockroach sitting on our curtain. It remains motionless, undecided on its plan of attack whilst Amy seizes this opportunity and wastes no time running to get help from our friendly security guard. The guard turns up, this time with a can of cockroach killer spray and stealthily moves into position beside the cockroach. With one deadly squirt, the knock out blow is delivered and the cockroach falls to the ground with its legs in the air. Amy's victory is assured.

Wednesday, 9 April 2008

Palolem, Goa

Women clearing the beach at the end of the day. Also we just saw our first cloud. In 10 days! Crazy.

Scary hives and Goan raves

Hello dear readers.
What a lot has happened since the dreaded Cashew Fenni..... We left Anjuna and arrived in Vagator, a beautiful and quiet little place. We met two German lads almost immediately, and it made us feel very at home, because what are we without two Germans in our lives?! (Oli and Chris, they were nothing compared to you).

We had an amazing fish dinner - pomfret (a large flat fish) stuffed with masala which was truly amazing and then we walked across the road to our guesthouse and fell asleep almost immdiately.
However, I was later awoken from my blissful slumber by Adrian who was covered from head to toe in vicious hives. For those of you who don't know, Adrian occasionally (and very randomly) comes out in hives after eating fish. It is impossible to tell when this might happen, but usually a Piriton wards them off like a charm. Never before had I (or he) seen them this bad, and I must say for a moment I feared for his life. It was quite frightening for a while, but eventually he seemed to improve and by the next day he was much better, much to our relief.

The next day we realised we had run out of cash, so decided (against my better judgement) to hire a scooter to ride to the next town. I made Adrian SWEAR not to go over 10 miles an hour and the good boy kept his word and we pootled along so slowly that an elderly lady in one of those little motorised things would have had no trouble overtaking us. Unfortunately the thing sputtered to a halt just over half way there and we realised we had run out of fuel. I was NOT impressed, as Adrian had said quite confidently that we had plenty of petrol (although how he knew this I cannot tell, as our petrol guage was broken). He was the one who had to push the thing uphill in blistering 38 degree midday sun though, so I think that was sufficient punishment.

We managed to buy a litre of fuel in an old water bottle from a nice lady with a little shop at the side of the road for 60 rupees (about 90 pence) which sent us merrily on our way again.

On Sunday we experienced our first Goan 'Rave' (see above photo!). Our German friends had told us of a weekly hilltop party which was apparently worth checking out. Interestingly enough, it started at 4pm and was finished by 10! Quite the novelty for us London party animals, no?! This is apparently because the local government haave recently imposed a ban on outdoor music after 10pm. Fair enough.

It was a crazy place! Like a small festival, and so well organised! Clean toilets and little stalls selling food and a bar with a surprisingly large selection of beers. We sat ourselves down on one of the many mats laid out around the 'dancefloor' area, and watched all the people dancing to what my father would have called (and on this occasion I would have to agree) 'noise'. The place was packed full of all the Westerners living here long-term, as well as a few Indian teenagers and various tourists like us who had heard of the legend of the hill party.

Saturday, 5 April 2008

Beware Cashew Fenni

The other night, a Mancunian lad called Chris introduced Amy and I to something called 'Cashew Fenni', a clear home-brewed drink alcoholic that smells of petrol and has the taste of a concentrated headache mixed with paint stripper.
Two shots was all it took for the three of us to be 'wobbly' as Chris puts it. And just then, dear reader, when you think that the night's drunken haze is the sting in the drink's tail, a few hours later, when you wake up with a dry mouth that feels like sandpaper, you realise the full extent of the hangover that the drink has inflicted upon you. Amy and I spent the whole of the next day in bed. Criminal, when you consider the blue sky and the beach just metres away... Beware Cashew Fenni.

Vagator beach, Goa

Chilled-out bull contemplating eating the coconut I gave him.

Tuesday, 1 April 2008


Little church just off the beach in Anjuna.

Cheap like Primark

Hello! I see that you've been keeping an eye on the blog. Yippee! We've been blogging from our mobiles, but now we're both escaping the mid day heat in an internet cafe (we've been in Goa for less than 24 hours and our skin has gone from what one person described as 'like chicken' to a more lobster-y red).

Finally escaped Mumbai. We only stayed there for one night because the place is just too much... It's a great place if you love traffic jams, armies of people trying to sell you things, the smell of urine and dangerous driving (our taxi driver to the trainstation came to a screeching halt to avoid crashing into a cow that had wondered into the road. If I had been wittier at that moment, I would have shouted 'Holy Cow!' in a Batman-from-the-60s sort of way).

Anyway. We're on Anjuna beach in Goa where it's much, much better. All the holiday cliches are here. Sun, sea and sand - check. Palm trees - check. Vendors on the beach trying to sell you jewellery, rub-on tattoos, fruit, massages, sarongs etc... - double check.

Inevitably, the vendors try to strike up a conversation with you which starts with 'Where you from?'. When you tell them you're from London, you get all sorts of London-centric catchphrases thrown back at you, 'Alright mate!', 'Have a butchers at my shop', 'It's cheap cheap like Primark' (when I was here last time, it was catchphrases from Ali G). I want to leave my mark here - so for any of you reading, can you suggest any comtemporary catchphrases I can teach a vendor on the beach today? Please leave a comment on the blog for anything that springs to mind. Remember - our mums are reading this blog - so refrain from leaving naughty comments (Gareth & especially you Mike!).

Anyway - this place is pretty much paradise. I'll spare you the gushing details but if there's anything you'd like to know specifically, please leave a comment on the blog. Oh Tommy! thanks for the recommendation - we'll certainly check that out.