Great report. I like seeing the historical buildings and your hotel lobby and courtyard look very nice. However, I think I would be beyond frustrated on this trip. You seem to really take everything in stride though.
So, have you finished arguing yet? You don't mind if I butt in and say a word or two?
Tod (and bjd), I remember before that you said the same thing about India. No problem. You ask what I find attractive about it. Many, many things but it all boils down to two main areas - the difference and the 'foreignness' of the country. My report(s) are not only to be read just for interest but also to amuse me, I take no offence if you say you dislike what you see. However, I like it. They say you hate India when you are here and love it when you are away. I've never hated it, just been frustrated about it at times. To explain - life and the world here is completely 'different' to my home, your home and apart from one(?) person on here, to everyone else's home. I like being places that are completely 'different'. The sights, sounds, smells, everything, is different and often exaggerated. I suspect culture shock happens to tourists more so here than anywhere else.
Because of all this India is a 'foreign land' and I dislike being for any length of time in any place that feels like, or even begins to feel like 'home'. Once I can get a grip and a handle on a place or country, I get itchy feet and want to leave. Fortunately I married a woman who has similar traits. We moved on from the Philippines as soon as we began to look at each other and say, "Well, what shall we do now?" We left Germany as soon as we could. We left Egypt just as the revolution began, but we'd already arranged to leave a year or more beforehand. It was just brought forward a few weeks. We are bored to tears now in Jordan and want to leave. I will next March, she will follow a couple of months later. We will have a year and a bit in Spain - just enough time to start feeling we've achieved what we wanted, then we will go to another country. Where, I don't know for certain but I know there is a vacancy for Mrs M in a particular one coming up.
In short, it would be highly likely that if you were me, with my brain, you'd like India. A lot of people don't have my brain but still like it - but they are rarer. People who have no attraction at all to India would not normally feel happy living the life I've had before and now. I like it because it feel foreign still and is vastly different to my home - plus there are fantastic things to see and do all over the country, in every state, in every city and in between. Food, culture, religion, beaches, mountains, rivers, ancient sites, modern cities.......... and on and on. If it was easy, I'd be bored and not come.
Lola, post 16 back a page. As much as your guess is a good one, it's still an observatory with the photo of part of a sundial.
And thanks to all of you for your comments as well. nycgirl, I take it in my stride because the only other alternative is to be a gibbering wreck. I'm just off to have a shower.
I leave you with a question for a moment. I also need to write up a little of today. In the majority of Indian (not foreign owned or chain hotels), why do they not put windows or a wall in between the bathroom and the corridor? Last night was the same in a Mount Abu, just a gap of a metre or so above the wall that borders the corridor? I don't actually know. I've asked here and nobody else does either. I amused myself last night by having a shower and then throwing water over the wall whenever I heard someone walking past.
That is an awesome explanation Mark and one I really appreciate because it gives a real indepth look at the many reasons you like India so much. You most certainly have the 'Travel-Bug' together with it's 'Itchy Feet'!! Maybe....just maybe, if I were 20 years younger I might have a shot at going there but on something organised. Too late now - I would be found 'fainting-in-coils', as they say.
I will be watching out for more of your photos and commentary as it's bound to take us to scenery not seen in your previous photo-essay.
I was up in a place called Mount Abu last night. It is a hill station where people go to get out of the heat of the summer. At this time of year though, it gets decidedly chilly at night. It seems to be very popular with honeymooners. Maybe so they can cuddle up a lot. The room I had was pretty shite in reality. None of the others would have been better. The hotel was called the Hotel Maganji and came with mixed reviews in the first place. I decided that unless I wanted to pay a fortune, I’d risk it. In its favour the location was good, a cheap enough price (though only just value for money) and the Gujarati thali I had in the restaurant was exceptional. Different States have different styles of thalis, even if you are not in that state, which I wasn’t quite yet. More dishes than you could shake a stick at including a glass of buttermilk and a desert. Plus free refills of any part that I wanted until I imitated Mr Creosote from Monty Python (his stomach exploded).
The room was crap. Stained bedding and filthy room. I complained, they cleaned up a bit, changed the bed but it’d be back to ‘normal’ for the next visitor. Everything was poorly maintained but the thing that got my goat, apart from the lacking of the part of the toilet wall adjacent to the corridor thing, was that it had only one sheet and then a blanket. Hence you sleep on the sheet and put the blanket on top of you. Not me, thank you very much. They looked askance when I asked for another sheet. I was expecting bed bugs, but none appeared and I only got bitten three times by mosquitos.
I left early, just as the sun was rising (quite normal for me actually) and made may way down the hill. Snapped a quick photo –
One a bit lower down –
There were plenty of monkeys on and at the side of the winding road. These have very long tails, the last twenty centimetres or so is just hair. So I played a game of ‘Tails of the Unexpected’. The rules are that I have to drive over that last part of the tail before they realise what I’m doing and jump away. They won but I came second. Can’t be bad.
I dropped down to the valley and made quick time to the border of the states of Rajasthan, that I was leaving, and Gujarat that I was entering. I needed again to by a state permit for the car. I managed to find the building easily enough because there was a barrier across the road anyway so I had to stop. I didn’t take a photo of it because there were several police types frowning a bit at me when I whipped my camera out. Better not piss them off, I thought. The permit for Rajasthan was 200 rupees a day, about 4 US dollars. I told the man I wanted a permit for Gujarat for five days. He said you could only get one for a minimum of seven days. Methinks this is going to cost me. He filled it out after jotting down all the vehicle details from the paperwork I’d given him and handed it to me to check. I perused it, said it was ok (I had no idea anyway) and I asked him how much. “Fifty rupees” he said. I thought, does he mean total fifty or fifty for each day? If in doubt, my adage is to go for the dumb option. I gave him a fifty rupee note, he took it, wrote me a receipt and bid me good day. Cheap at half the price. I wonder what the cost of the other states will be.
Whilst waiting for the paperwork several males were nearby dressed normally, obviously curious. One asked, “Where is your driver?” Jeez, this is getting repetitive. I remember in Ethiopia, apart from getting stones thrown at me all the time, people asking me “Where is your guard?”. I’d reply, “Me. I’m the guard for me and the group (looking sternly at them). I’m good enough. Ok?” Anyway, I was asked the usual question, “Where are you from?” “England” I said. They conferred a little and one said, in allusion to all the Indians in the UK, “You can’t be. You don’t speak Hindi!” We laughed.
Then they began to get out little passport photos of themselves in their military uniforms and show them to me. It was then that I completed the permit thing so I oooed and coooed over the photos, handed them all back, stood to attention and said “Permission to be dismissed and carry on Sir” They paused and one said, “Dismissed!” with a smile. I executed a smart salute and an about turn and marched away to be followed by a chorus of “Left, right! Left, right!” (NB – I do know how to march, salute etc)
However, I digress. I wanted to call at a couple of places on the way. I’ll do reports on them when I’m at home. It would get too much to try and sort them all out now. I’ll say though that one was here –
And had carvings on it like this –
The other one was similar and was of the architectural style I mentioned a few days ago, but not the observatory.
Whilst I was looking round one a local man with his wife and son stopped me and asked me to take a photo of him, with his camera, and with his family. I said I would and he then took a couple of minutes to arrange his wife and son. Then a couple of minutes to explain to me how to work his camera (it was a point and shoot anyway). On his instruction I took two photos. He took his camera back, activated the rear screen and critiqued my shots. He was unhappy with one of them so asked if I’d take a couple more. I obliged. He repeated the review and asked again. I said to him that maybe he ought to take the photos and I’d stay with his family. He replied that that wasn’t the point. I took two more. He took the camera again, looked and pronounced that they were ok. With a relieved sigh the wife and child relaxed. He thanked me and I said, “You aren’t by any chance a teacher, are you?” He puffed himself up a bit and replied, “I’m a Professor of Engineering at….” And named a local University. “Why?” he asked. “How did you know?” I made some excuse about him looking authoritative and moved away.
Hungry. That what I was next. So I trundled though a couple of villages and spotted nothing but street food that was sweet stuff. I needed something else. I spied set back from the road a small display cabinet outside a small shop that has samosas in it. I stopped, jumped out and walked across. The several men sitting on the charpois (Indian day bed) outside turned to see who the stranger was. I nodded as I made way through them to the display and pointed and asked that I could have a samosa. These are vegetarian ones with different veg curry mixtures inside. It can be pot luck as to what you get sometimes, but I like them all anyway. This one was served by being cut up into bit sized pieces with a pair of carpet scissors, put on a paper plate and a squeeze of ketchup added to the side.
As I ate it I noticed the deep fat frying pan was being used set behind him. It was bubbling merrily away and I couldn’t see what was in it. As I finished he picked up his ladle (with holes in, can’t remember what they are called) and began to fish out the contents. Each one was triangular with a crispy outside. I had two of them and they were a carbohydrate bomb. After eating them I felt like someone had force fed me lead weights. I virtually waddled away. What were they? The samosas were filled with firm potato/cauliflower curry by the way. These were – imagine making a thick spreadable chilli and mashed potato mixture, with certain spices added, spreading it on two slices of bread to make a sandwich. Cutting it diagonally in half. Then…… then……… dipping it in batter and deep frying it. Stunning. In fact I felt stunned for the next hour or so.
I said I wouldn’t mention food particulary again but I did. Near my hotel is a McDonalds. For your information, a chicken masala burger with cheese, a medium portion of chips and a strawberry milkshake costs just under 200 rupees (four dollars or so). Don’t ask me how I know or I might have to kill you and eat you (if I can manage now). Also, right outside the hotel is a stall selling a million different types of dosa (“…a fermented crepe or pancake made from rice batter and black lentils and filled and rolled”) I think I’m just going to lie down for a minute and then slip out. If you don’t hear from me again, donate my body to medical science but remember to take my car back to the hire company in Delhi so I’m not out of pocket.
I have two brothers and one good friend who just love India in all its shambolic magnificence. I fully trust the judgment of these people, yet I can't see myself going, not because the prospect doesn't fascinate me a little but simply because its a lot to invest in a trip I might well end up hating.
You've got to like curry for a start. Unless in a city, and a reasonably large one at that, it can be three times a day.
Update - just had a masala dosa and a mumbai dosa. Not really sure what the difference was. But..... walked past a stall making cheese on toast with garlic. Just had to have one. I'll certainly not have any vampire problems tonight.
I don't see myself as an especially wimpy person when it comes to travel, and I prefer going to places where I feel I have left home. But somehow India has just never attracted me although seeing some photographs with lots of colour I admit that it might be worth seeing. I think what bothers me is the idea of permanent hassle, which is how I imagine it would be, and what Mark is writing about dealing with hotels only confirms.
This is not to say I don't enjoy this trip report.
Mossie, my dad was more or less of your excellent vintage and one day he and my mother were returning from Spain with their car after being away for three weeks or so. He told me he was happy to get on the ferry so he could have some decent English food. I asked him what he had, he replied "a Madras curry".
I had nothing to hang around for at the hotel last night in Ahmedabad, it was a chain hotel, a chain called Ginger who have a load of them around the country. Initially it was difficult to find because it was tucked behind a shopping centre. Inside was yet again poorly maintained with dirty marks and broken/cracked tiles, plus I initially couldn’t get the internet to work in the room but they changed my room to make it so. So I left early this morning knowing I had a bit of a drive ahead of me. Breakfast wasn’t part of the room rate so I grabbed something on the way. Two types of pakoras with a mild sauce and some chillis. With a couple of cups of tea it came to roughly 1usd.
Saw these pretty ladies on the way –
Saw a nice little temple thing –
Now, who do you think lives here? –
The rag workers. They collect all the old rags, wash and bleach them, then grind them down into very small pieces, spread them out and let them dry. Here are bundles of them -
Here is the half finished product. They are kicking them around to turn them over to dry more –
The saris we normally see are woven from cotton or in really expensive cases, silk. Tradition has it that a really expensive silk sari can be passed through a wedding ring – which is some feat considering the cloth is between 0.60m to1.20m wide and 4m to 8m long. There are various grades of sari, silk and all the way down to poor quality cotton. They are woven, previously by hand, now by machine with the patterns woven in to them. Gold and/or silver thread can used as well. Later some may be embroided in different ways. These are always the types associated in our minds with India. We see them in films and in weddings. We see photos of Bollywood women in their finery. Saris are a big, big subject. Different areas, styles, cloth, patterns colours. The permutations are endless.
However, just as you don’t wear your best clothes around the house, neither obviously do Indian women. They may have their wedding sari which, as with a wedding dress, is stored away. They may have a couple of different grades for going out, going to work, meeting up with friends etc etc. Just like you have a range of clothes – and a range that most men think is too many in any case. My father always used to say that my mother has wardrobes full of nothing to wear. But we were not as poor as many here. Many women may have just one or two saris. Very cheap ones – or cheap to us, and cheaply made. I couldn’t get close enough but that is what I think these are. The previous bleached cotton is woven into a strip and then possibly block printed or tie dyed or a combination of both. I think this because at the time I was going through a very poor area plus I can’t see them laying out expensive ones in the same way. This is what they look like –
After saying all that, if I’m wrong, let me know.
Anyway, I’m currently on the Gujarati coast. You may have noticed I don’t actually say where I am until I’ve left. Old habit. But here is the view from my bedroom window –
I’ve got a bit better room this time. At least it has a wall in the bathroom. Here is my room, fairly business style standard –
Outside it is very quite, there are few buildings around. Next door is an abandoned hotel –
You are keeping us well entertained Mark! Please take a shot next time of "The room was crap. Stained bedding and filthy room." I found your last hotel room very acceptable - sort of Holiday Inn. I'd love to have a comparison
From the description of your diet while travelling you must be devouring a lot of deep fried food - everything coated in batter. (Except a curry with naan bread or roti) but I suppose you are not in the part of India.. Three days a week a small family bakery take up space near the entrance to my shop and sell samoosas - lamb mince, potato, and corn. They get them uncooked from elsewhere and fry them before they start up for the day. Very popular at R5 each which is very expensive I think. But then I am not allowed to pay for anything I choose - cakes included, as they don't pay any rent so insist I always take some goodies.
I think the cheapest saris sold in Little India in Paris run about 10 euros, but I don't know if they are even imported from India. The vast majority of exotic fabrics in France are actually made in Germany and the Netherlands. I had a Pakistani colleague who would buy all sorts of fabrics in Paris to take back to the women of his family in Karachi. "They don't have this back there."
Tod, I'm back in the same kind of room again tonight. Apart from the evening in Ahmedabad where I couldn't resist some fried food there I only generally have it as street food at lunch time. There is oil/ghee in normal curries here but there is no deep frying. There are deep fried breads but I have them only once in half a dozen or so meals, if that. The normal nan/roti/paratha aren't. In post number 9 it gives the dishes in one of the thalis that I had. There was nothing deep fried. I've had nothing done that way today and won't for my meal tonight. I'll write up my day later and I'll include what I ate. I have though mentioned deep fried food more so than the other stuff, it gives a false impression.
I stayed last night at a hotel called Lords Inn in Porbandar, obviously on the coast of Gujarat. Yesterday I’d cut across the state but veered north to the coast and then followed it down and around about a third of the way. I wondered if, because of the name of the hotel it’d have a religious leaning. No sign of it at all even though the originator of the chain of the same name hotels appears to have been a holy man. I’ve come around the coast about another third and stopped and will do the rest tomorrow. Gujarat has a number of famous religious sites and is the birthplace of Ghandi. I have seen quite a few pilgrims walking along the roads of which quite a few were of the Jain faith, unsurprising as a couple of their most holy sites are here. They are easy to spot because of the white cloth they often wear in front of their mouth. Jainism practises no-violence towards all beings, be they great or small. They will not kill anything except in very special circumstances (self-defence, military service etc) and this extends down to the smallest insect. This violence extends not only to deliberate actions but also unintentional actions. It also includes plants, but being pragmatic they accept that for survival it has to be the case, though minimise it as much as possible. You remember the expression ‘sticks and stones…………’? Well Jains consider even harsh words to be an act of violence. I originally thought the cloth over the mouth was to prevent violence to flying insects by swallowing them, however, it may serve that purpose, but I now understand the main aim is to act as a reminder to watch what they say. End of lesson for today.
A quick photo of the sunset from my hotel window last night –
I was awoken this morning at 6am by noises outside. I got up and looked and saw many, many people either on the beach, swimming or ‘power walking’ along the promenade. What time they get up I’ve no idea. I had a bit of a lazy hour or so before going down to breakfast where a buffet was laid out. It was possible to request eggs done however you would like, plus there was toast, butter and jam or cereals. I can have all this anywhere else so I plumped for some of the local food. Masala chai was served, a bit too sweet for my taste but maybe it’s because it was morning. A mix of mild veg curries were available and various raw vegetables to make up a salad. One thing I indulged in was the spread of cut fruits and yoghurts as well.
My plan for today was to have a haircut and a shave. I’d not had a shave since arriving and I looked a bit ‘careworn’ you might say. A few hundred metres from the hotel I came across the right man to do it. He had a little shop and with at that time, no customers. I gestured what I wished for, he folded away his paper, drank his tea and bid me to sit down. A towel was placed over my shoulders and my hair was, in short order, and in a shorter style, cut. The head massage that followed was welcome. Then the towel was removed and a small one put just on my chest, up to my neck. A new blade was put in a cut throat razor, shaving foam applied to my face and he expertly removed all of my growth. A second set of foam was applied and shaved again. My face is now like a baby’s bottom (no, not red and covered in poop). A couple of dabs of different after shaves were splashed on and the towel removed. The price was 50 rupees, a bit less than one US dollar. I set off feeling like a new man.
I followed the coast as much as I was able, the road though being single lane and in places very pot holed so going was slow. The dual carriageways I’ve had to use now and again with smooth tarmac are something I don’t remember so much of in the years I’ve been coming to the country. Partly because I’ve always tended not to use the main routes I suppose. I do think though that there has been a lot of money spent on fast roads in many states.
On the way I’d slip down at times to see what the beach was like when I could, this is one I came across. Some were very littered and to me, unusable. This one was fine –
The sea is quite warm by the way. Nearby are stalls selling coconuts. You can have the top lopped off one with a machete type tool and a straw poked in to drink the milk. Reasonably refreshing but I can’t manage more than one without the taste becoming too much –
The rest of the day was uneventful. I stopped for lunch at the side of the road and had just a plate of biryani rice and a ‘Thumbs Up’ – the local version of coca cola. Later I stopped again for another drink here –
You can just make out the cold cabinet to the left of centre. Note one shop selling ice creams – advice – never have one. A couple of other things to point out, if you’re interested. To the very left is the front of what looks like a motorbike. It’s actually a three wheeled trike (redundant words there? A trike has three wheels anyway?) The man to the left and behind is sitting on a proper motor bike, proper in that it has just two wheels but is a popular model here, a Hero Honda 125cc. The trike carries people, goods, whatever but of interest to a petrol head like me is that it uses an engine that is more suitable, and is used mainly for static purposes, e.g. a water pump. I’ve only seen this style here in Gujarat but they are manufactured en-masse and have a distinctive sound.
Next, there are strings of what look like packets of crisps in the shops, but they aren’t. They are various types of what we’d call ‘Bombay Mix’. There is a very commonplace four wheeled cart with vegetables on it. These carts can’t be steered and have to be lifted at the back when you want to manoeuvre them round a corner. Difficult when they are loaded up. To the far right in the foreground with his hand on his hip is an Albino man. I have no idea what the figures are in India but rarely a day passes without me seeing at least one. My anecdotal impression is that there are far more here than in every country I’ve been to at least. I wonder how rich I’d be if I’d patented the plastic chairs. There must be gazillions of them.
So, I arrive at my hotel for the night, in a rural area back in land and for some reason I get the feeling the staff here think I’m someone important. More so than being obviously not Indian and not local and a tourist. A manager insisted on checking me in rather than the reception staff and when I ordered some chai/tea for the room another manager brought it with the serving lad and was making sure everything was ok. Plus, you normally get one hour free internet here and then you have to pay. They’ve given it to me free for 24 hours. The room is similar to last night, business style, but I had a welcome from the local wildlife sitting on my windowsill –
I said it is a rural area and this is the view from my window. Potato plants? Me no good with plant things –
Tomorrow I’ll move on to a city again and then further south. But here is a place I want to slip to tomorrow as well. I’ve yet to find out exactly where it is but it should be nearly on the way I think.
Equivalent to about 25 Euros inc, breakfast buffet. The thing that irritates me though is normally you get free wifi and at the least, free in public areas. But these type, because of the business aspect, make you pay for it.
Very interesting once again Mark! Thanks for reporting on the food - Now I know you won't clog your arteries Kidding aside, it is nice to see Indian dishes prepared in India. As you know we have a huge Indian population here. As a matter of fact the way these Indians make lamb / mutton curry is world renowned and considered superb. Other dishes which top the list here are Butter chicken and all manner if biryani's. I like the odd curry but my husband loves curry made well. I can't eat it too hot. How do you find the 'burn' factor in the curries you are eating on your trip?