Category Archives: India

Arambol Beach

 Arambol has grown from practically nothing to a chaotic sprawl of cafe’s restaurants, guest houses, beach shacks and family residences all jumbled into a town…but much of the interest for me is the nightly gathering on Arambol Beach.

Every night at sunset people congregate near the Magic Park exit on the beach for a drum circle and small traveller market. Some people pass the occasion by juggling, doing yoga, meditating to the sun, acrobatics is not unusual. Others choose to dance their way into the sand to the hypnotic African rythyms pounded out by enthusiastic drummers…

I made a short clip of one nights experience starting with a surreal view of a temple close to the beach…


Largest slum in Asia faces development

Dharavi the largest slum in Asia faces development. Situated in Mumbai, India it has 60,000 people living in it, and it  unfortunately its also a much sought after piece of real estate worth millions that they live on. It is a thriving workplace for the people. Check out the video’s for a feeling of the place and see why I feel it has a heart and deserves to escape the clutch of those that view it through only dollar stained eyes.

Slumming it by Kevin McCloud Part One

Here is the link to the group I created to protest the proposed development of Dharavi.

 

 

Delhi Belly

The famous downside to Indian travel is the Delhi Belly. Unfortunately many travellers do fall victim to it, and I have myself several times. Of course the best thing is to avoid getting it in the first place. One should always be careful of what food you eat.

  • Ask restaurants how they wash food especially salads – must be with filtered water
  • Fresh fruit is great from markets
  • Dried fruit and nuts are also great
  • Bottled water is good but check for broken or ‘mended seals’ ala Slumdog Millionaire. Better still bring a water purifier

Treatment.

One of the most common stomach problems is Giardia.

  • Go to an Indian Chemist or pharmacy ask for Ofloxacin & Ornidazole Tablets
  • Check that the expiry and manufacturing date are OK
  • Probiotic Capsules are also good a good idea.

Dharamshala

Dharamshala is nestled in the foothills of the himalayas. Its smaller higher village of McLeod Ganj is the home of the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan government in exile. It was the first place that I visited in India after arriving in Delhi, and I have been back twice since.
The first time I went there was a magical experience from start to finish. Ok Perhaps the 12 hour bus ride was not completely magical, after all for a start I despise buses as a means of transportation, having witnessed the near comatose state of a close friend who narrowly survived the insane 66 hours Perth to Sydney trip, and personally having done 36 hours on a trip from Edinburgh to the French Alps (in a bus internally designed by those same kind airport seat designers to conspire to make it impossible to comfortably recline across 2 seats) , I swore, please Lord never again.
So after lets say 8 hours or so dawn is beginning to break as it was an overnight trip. The bus is slowly winding its way around infinite turns of the Indian Himalayan foothills. I glimpse out of the window perhaps just to avoid the vibration of the bus banging my head yet again against the chassis. I notice the sun is coming up, I turn to look north taking in the slightly tropical steamy hills unfurled beyond. and see clouds of wool nestled atop the hills, at which point my groggy brain cognizes sharks teeth atop of the clouds !!!? What. It then dawns on me of course this is my first glimpse of the Himalaya. The man on the bus I am sitting next too is Tibetan and introduces himself to me, and later reveals he has been a past translater to his holiness the Dala Lama, and also imparts a very worthwhile accommodation tip I have heard few others knowing of or using.

TseChokLing monastery sits just below McLeod Ganj, and offers accommodation and breakfast / dinner (cooked by some of the monks), its a fantastic way to experience McLeod Ganj and also support one of the monasteries too.

 

I arrived in February just in time for the Dalai Lama’s month long teachings in McLeod Ganj / Dharamshala. Every morning a sea of red and crimson shawl bound monks and nuns would flow down the main street to the Dalai Lamas monastery, along with all the monks and nuns whom had come from all over india and nepal and probably further were Tibetan refugees and more than a few handfuls of westerners.  I spent the first day outside on one of the balconies of the monastery while the teachings were gong on inside in the courtyard, having decided that sitting on the floor is uncomfortable, I don’t understand tibetan, why not sit outside looking at the mountains and listen to the Dalai Lama’s musical voice through the kindly supplied sound system to those of us that had made this decision…

Top tips on travelling India

 

You are going to encounter a lot of poverty and begging. The chaos of India is difficult for many to handle. The dust, pollution, and culture shock all definitely challenge many tourists…Personally I think these are just some of the elements that add to

1.  Take the train.

– The train system is amazing and cheap.

– There is a special quota of tickets reserved especially for foreigners and you can get them in the 1st floor tourist travel dept in New Delhi Railway station

2. Haggle. Don’t just accept the first price you are offered. Sometimes its not natural for us to do this as we are so used in the West to fixed prices and blind acceptance.  India offers trouble because there most of the time is no fixed price and so one feels like one is swimming in a constant sea of uncertainty.  My rule (it may change) is too offer half to one third of their first price and see what the reaction is. Treat it like a game and have fun and remember you don’t have to buy and can always walk away.

3.  Get a motorbike

– The train system is cool but nothing beats the economy and freedom of  renting or buying a motorbike especially if you stay in one place for more tan a couple of days.

–  If nervous at the prospect of driving on India’s roads avoid Delhi

–  Driving here is chaotic but much safer than any Western country I have driven in., for the reason that its much slower – I rarely travel above 40 km an hour, and driving here is all about moving with the flow.

4.  Begging.  It is very common,  and can be difficult to deal with as you will likely hear many very emotional stories of extreme poverty and hardship, and it can be very difficult to refuse.  Not all stories are true and often the tellers will know full well that you feel guilty for being so “rich” and they have nothing, and milk it for all its worth.  Its impossible to give to everyone, but all the same I would’nt say give to noone. Give but try not to get sucked in by stories and do what you feel is right in each situation.

What to do when you are stopped by the Goa Police

I went for a day trip by motorbike to visit the town of Arambol. Turns out it is a great place, I found 2 live music venues, and won 10 games of pool in a row, which made me reasonably happy. Lots happening too, and the waves on the beach looked seriously inviting.
Upon the way back to Chapora, I encountered a police roadblock (the time was roughly midnight). Three policemen, one of whom was armed with what appeared to be an antique wooden rifle he had liberated from the 1st world war or possibly even earlier.
So upon deciding to be a good citizen I stopped. I noticed the slightly strange lazy sauntering approach of the first policeman, who then asked me to stop the engine. After I did so then he commented about a strange smell, and then asked me if I had been smoking, I replied that I don’t smoke and am very happy with my years of freedom. Undetered he then said that if he searched my bag and found Charas (hashish) there would be trouble, my response was a polite but firm “go ahead, search my bag I have nothing, I don’t smoke”, deciding to change tack he then asked me for my licence which I did not have on me, but I offered to bring it to him the next day.
So a fine of 500 rupees was pronounced for my crime. Naturally this being India, I surmised that haggling would definitely be worthwhile, so I offered him 250, which was raised by them to 300, then our brief time shared together on this earth was finished and I continued on my way.
So long and short is – the police here really just want to make money, I asked around and heard that others have been caught out, some with drugs, but the crime is almost not relevant, and the 500 rupee fine is what is really wanted and the standard amount requested. Perhaps haggling is not to be advised if you have committed a crime that could end you up in prison, but I realised what they were up to early on in the proceeding, while at the same time knowing I had done nothing serious wrong.
Apparently here the police have to pay alot of money to get their posting, and this is their way of recuperating the money lost.
I love India…

Enter New Delhi

I remember the first time I came here. Its now my 4th time. Delhi is a true onslaught to the mind. The chaos, the pollution, the dirt & dust, the rickshaws and crazy driving, the odd cow in the middle of the roads, beggars of all sorts and some with various injuries or missing limbs, holy men by the million, the Indian women who somehow manage to remain effortlessly clean in their sari’s while wandering through the dusty dirty streets.

This truly is a different country. As much as I loved travelling in NZ and Oz, they are still western, and you see the same beers, hear the same songs on the radio, and the culture is not much different.  In India they are trying to adopt Western culture, I think too quickly and too readily, but its quite difficult to erradicate thousands of years of culture and traditions in a short space of time.

The gulf of extremes seems apparent in everything. The super rich to the super poor. If I go out on the streets near to my hostel lots of people are sleeping rough outside, many of the rickshaw drivers seem improbably fallen asleep balanced across their cycle rickshaw.      Yet a short walk to Connaught place and you might glimpse the odd Bentley driving around.

I think what I really love here is the vibrancy, of the full on life. The people are so friendly, yes sure some of them are wanting your money and to sell you things, but so many are genuinely interested in others.  It is so refreshing.  There is still that innocence. That childlike intrigue in life, of mystery…perhaps the only real ground that can exist in is one of a bit chaos.  When life becomes fully rigid and narrow, all excitement dies with it, in the craving for security and certainty..

Go here for my most recent photos of Amazing India 

Turned a corner in the middle of Delhi to find unexpectedly a guy riding an elephant down the street


 

 

Finding a Mango Smoothie in Magical Leh in the Himalayas

 

For those that don’t know Leh is the capital of Ladakh, nestled in the Indus Valley in the deep Himalayan plateau. The culture is predominantly Tibetan Buddhist, and the language Ladakhi is very similar to Tibetan.I flew with my girlfriend from Delhi-Leh which was an experience in itself, and we arrived effectively 3.5km’s higher up in this high altitude desert city, feeling slightly dizzy from lack of oxygen and hoping that, that was all, because some people get hit by altitude sickness at this height.

Leh is cut off from the world by road for about 8 months of the year. The only two roads in or out becoming blocked at their respective mountain passes, with the onslaught of the winter snow defeating any attempts of humankind to combat it. The only way in and out at this time is by air.

We chose this curious time of April to go to Leh, one which not many people choose. We flew in about 3 weeks before the mountain passes open, so there were practically no tourists, and the climate was beautifully warm in the sunshine but also really cold in the shade, as were the nights. The city had the feeling of just starting to emerge from hibernation, the stocks in the shops had run low, and people were  just waiting for the first pass to open and fresh supplies to arrive.

 

One of my favourite restaurants in the town on the main street served pizza with fairly convincing mozzarella cheese on it, still I’m not exactly sure what it was but it was welcome !  It had a great view of the street for one of the best pastimes to be practised in India – people watching.

On this particular day I decided to go to a café for a coffee and the owner suggested I have a Mango Lassi.  “A Mango you say ?“ “In the Himalayas?” “How did it get here ? Aliens ?”

He then recounted the wonderful tale of how he had procured his mango supply. It turns out that the road from Srinigar to Leh, was not quite clear yet, but a truck with supplies including the Mango’s arrived at the point where it was still impassable to vehicles, whereon the contents were duly transferred to donkey’s and horses, and then walked over the pass, and on the other side they were picked up by a waiting truck and brought to Leh. It might sound reasonably simple but I was awestruck by this journey (perhaps the altitude was infecting me) as I sipped at this precious Mango smoothie.

Why should I go to India

For those who have been to India, it is an amazing place. I have been 3 times. I go for the experience, not to be a tourist. It has everything from beautiful beaches, tropical areas, deserts, massive cities, the highest mountains in the world, and as if that wasn’t enough it is full of amazing spirituality. Most of all its the people that really make this place special. So many stories, so man people of course !

For most westerners the first time in India is really crazy. It feels crazy, the chaos, the dust, the cows in the streets. To me that is just as much a part of its beauty.  When you go there you get to experience something completely different, the way things are done and what is normal are completely different for Westerners to understand, and its why I think everyone can benefit from visiting this unique and very special country.

So thats my brief introduction as to why you should visit to India.