More cities, more travels and more things to write about.

Udaipur to Agra and Agra to Varanasi

Catching a train (let alone two in a sequence) here is an exercise in patience, tenacity, endurance, knowledge and luck. All of these were to come in handy over the following 36 hours. That fact that in the middle of that journey we were going to see the Taj Mahal, the Red Fort and the Baby Taj as well as get into a hotel that I couldn’t contact on the phone in Varanasi to stay with a friend I made there two years ago was merely an added bonus.

The train to Agra was fairly simple, it involved getting to the train station at Udaipur station in enough time to find the carriage, find out berths in it, buy luggage chains (locking luggage to underneath the seat is a great security method as they won’t dig through it, they will simply nick the whole bag), get some water and biscuits for the train and help make sure that Mal was ok with the insanity that was going to ensue.

We managed to get to the station, find the train and find our carriage with no problems at all, however as we were quite early the carriage was still locked. I thought that this was good as it would allow me time to get Mal sorted on the platform with our stuff while I bought chains, locks, biscuits etc., which I duly went off to do.

When I returned Mal had made friends with the crippled shoeshine man (shine wallah) who had shined Mal’s hiking shoes for him. The fact that shine wallah spoke not a word of English and Mal not a syllable of Hindi was seemingly irrelevant as Mal attempted to get shine wallah to shut up and leave him alone and as shine wallah attempted to convince Mal to get my cloth and plastic sandals shined.

Relief came in the opening of the carriage doors and us finding our berths by the light of my iPhone. I didn’t feel the need to instruct Mal on carriage clothing etiquette but I am fairly certain that this was the first time that anyone in our carriage had seen a 52 year old man in a t-shirt and boxer briefs laying on a berth without a blanket over him. It was certainly the first time for me.

The trip to Agra was uneventful with the exceptions of a) Mal deciding that the three Indian boys below us were all gay and trying to pick one another up and b) him jabbing me awake at 4:00 because said boys were trying to steal our stuff. They were actually getting food out of their own bags and I am sure that the bruises in my back will heal with time.

I have to say that arriving in Agra at 11:00am and being booked on a 9:00pm train out is the only way I will visit that sty again (please take note Heather and James). We found a Rickshaw driver to whom I gave precise instructions, “Drive us to the Red Fort, the ‘Baby Taj’, the ‘Black Taj’ and then the Taj Mahal. No shops, no factories, no brother’s showrooms.”. Doing it in that order meant that we did indeed only see the things that we wanted to see and nothing that we didn’t. Well nothing except the 2/3 empty whiskey bottle that the driver offered us a swig from after the Taj Mahal and from which he had obviously been drinking all day.

One of the more fun moments at the Taj Mahal was taking this photo.

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Another joy was introducing Mal to Indian Spring Rolls. They need capital letters as they are a true proper noun. Imagine your average takeaway spring role, but made out of a wrapper the size of a bread and butter plate. Mal saw them he ordered them and therein after whenever he saw them he ordered them. To say he found a new friend in that delicious and scary food is to be guilty of a gross understatement.

The final ‘joy’ of Agra was discovering that although my mate Govind had been right in getting us berths on the train to Varanasi he had been wrong in believing the official India Rail website when it said that the train to Varanasi went from Mathura to Agra and then on to Varanasi.

It used to, but unfortunately that stopped happening about 6 weeks ago so Mal and I waiting at Agra for this train would not have seen us get to Varanasi ever. Thanks to the tourist liaison man in the train station we discovered this in enough time to get general class tickets on a local train to Mathura with two hours to spare before the train for Varanasi departed. I still hadn’t discussed etiquette with Mal so it was another night of hairy thighs ahoy, but at least this time we only had grown men playing cards all night to disrupt the quietude and they did go to bed at about 1:00am.

We arrived at Varanasi only two hours later than the posted time and after catching a pedal Rickshaw from the station to as near as he could go (and about as far as his pulmonary system would allow) we walked with our new Russian American friends: Mike and Mike’s wife, to find my preferred hotel. It was easy enough to find Eden Halt particularly with lovely signs like this.

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It was also easy to find Sanjay (the owner) as he was standing out the front and saying hello Malcolm as soon as he saw me. What wasn’t easy to anticipate was seeing one of the two guys who had told me about the place sitting inside watching the river wander past. Mal and I stayed there for four days and it was great.

There are so many things to love about Varanasi and a new on is the service offered by the lovely Pooja at Vodafone to solving Mal’s data roaming problem. The fact that after she solved it for him she bombarded him with requests for an audio feedback message for her boss only slightly soured his appreciation. I learned from this and made my feedback almost instantly when they helped me in Calcutta.

Calcutta

Flying from Varanasi to Calcutta was a case of ‘it’s pretty cheap and it saves time’ and it did both of those. Unfortunately it still left us at the mercy of the taxi drivers and their constant demands that we stay at a hotel that they knew. This was the case even when I was blunt and told the driver to just take us to Sudder St (where most of the tourist hotels are) and we would find our own. He did that, but when I was taking too long finding a room in one, he simply carried all of the bags with Mal in tow to the door of the hotel I was inside and drove off with his fare, but no hotel commission. I don’t think that he was a happy camper.

The highlights of Cal this time were visiting the flower markets again and actually getting to see the Victoria Memorial. Mal and I spent hours at the flower markets and took about 250 photos each. It looks incredible from a distance.

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And it looks even more amazing close up.

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After that Mal and I wandered back to find a cab and went to the Victoria Memorial Hall. This is an ornate pile of marble that the British rulers of India built using local money to celebrate the triumph of their rule over the sub-continent. I am not making this up people. Mal was the one who pointed it out and I began to realise that there are a number of buildings like that in India and instead of spending money celebrating themselves in a building that took 20 years to complete they might possibly have built some engineering or educational infrastructure.

This is from the Wikipedia entry.

‘On the death of Queen Victoria in January 1901, Lord Curzon, who was then Viceroy of India, placed before the public the question of setting up a fitting memorial to the Queen. He suggested that the most suitable memorial would be a “stately”, spacious, monumental and grand building surrounded by an exquisite garden.

This was to be a historical museum where people could see before them pictures and statues of men who played a prominent part in the history of this country and develop a pride in their past. The princes and people of India responded generously to his appeal for funds and the total cost of construction of this monument amounting to one crore, five lakhs of rupees, was entirely derived from their voluntary subscriptions.

Sir William Emerson, President of the British Institute of Architects, designed and drew up the plan of this building, while the work of construction was entrusted to Messrs. Martin & Co. of Calcutta. Vincent J. Esch was the superintending architect.’

That’s right, the Indian people through the princes paid for it, it was designed in London and the poor Indians were to traipse through it (when appropriate) to learn how and why their betters we’re better.

The fact that they could have spent that 10 500 000 Ruppes on building water or sewerage systems didn’t occur to the Brits. The fact that the building is essentially useless (comprising of a series of interconnected grand spaces with no specific purpose) and is set in over 60 acres of gardens that would require constant upkeep was seemingly irrelevant too.

Victoria doesn’t even look happy that the building was built.

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Having seen all that Mal wanted to see and having seen all that I had missed last trip we went to the airport to catch our plane to Mumbai for Mal’s last few days.

A longish post about a longer trip.

Jaipur

I have been to Jaipur once in 2003 and like some places in this insane country, I didn’t like it. I decided that I should give it another chance and try to see the good side of it. I flew up and was collected by the driver from my hotel and ferried straight to a rather nice inexpensive (IR600 per night) hotel close to the centre of the old city. I then decided to have some dinner and went to a nice restaurant called Copper Chimney (don’t ask me why, it just was) where I had a good dinner and met a cool guy from Melbourne who I shared my dinner table with and a few beers. I can’t remember his name, and like most Australian/English/Canadian etc. people I speak to here, it is unlikely that I will ever see him again so there is really not much of a point anyway.

The next day encompassed a trip to the Amber Palace and the old city. I was also very pleased to see that what in 2003 had been a ruined palace called the Lal Mahal was now on its way to being fully restored as a five star hotel. As there is a dearth of public money for this sort of thing, the injection of capital usually comes at the price of commercialisation of these beautiful places, but without it they will rot and disappear.

Dinner that night was at Handis which is a restaurant names after a dish (handi used to serve curries etc.) I had an amazing chicken biryani and it was so amazing that I had it again the following night. Mind you if they had saved the portion that I didn’t eat on the first night and reheated it for me on the second night there would still have been leftovers.

The next day I went to the Albert Museum in Jaipur where there is an interesting collection of Indian art and some enormous rugs.

I continue to be amazed at the amount of money the British squeezed out of the Indian people to build palaces, halls and other tributes to themselves. I am also amazed that while they are always called ‘Indo-Saracen’ buildings and always claim to be an expression of the sub-continent’s unique architecture, they are barely distinguishable from almost every other British building built anywhere else in the world at the time.

The other treat of the day was a trip to one of the most amazing pieces of architecture I have ever seen. It is one of a few early astronomical structures still essentially intact in the world. It is called the Jantar Mantar. The name is derived from jantar (‘instrument’), and Mantar (‘formula’, or in this context ‘calculation’). Therefore jantar mantar means literally ‘calculation instrument’.It was some what like wandering through the inside of a slide-rule.

The other distinguishing feature of Jaipur were the pair of silver water carriers Handis that the Maharajah of Jaipur had made to carry Ganges water to London for bathing and drinking during his visit there for King George’s coronation. They each weighed 450kilogram and you can see are almost 6feet tall.

I did have a better time in Jaipur this time, but I will not be hurrying back any time soon.

Jodhpur

I went to the blue city to do a few ample things and I managed to do them all.

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I went shopping for some glass bangles for all of the lovely women I work with and a tablecloth for my boss. I even managed to have some great omlettes from the omelette man.

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I had another dinner with a stunning view as almost al rooftop meals in Jodhpur are. I even managed to go back to a place I ate in four years ago for a cheap and tasty thali (IR109) yes folks that is just a little over $2:00. The dish on the far right is dessert and it was particularly delicious.

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I enjoyed Jodhpur and I will probably go back again, although there isn’t much to do there besides eat omlettes and try to get into the new City Palace museum, which is something that I have failed to do (not for want of trying) each time I have been to Jodphur.

Introducing the Special Guest Star

The photo at the bottom of the last entry was of my friend Mal Miller. I have known Mal for about 6 years through Mardi Gras. He is half of the Miller/Muddle family (he is Kirk Muddle’s partner).

Mal was due to arrive at 7:30 on a flight from Mumbai but due to the professionalism of a certain Australian iconic airline he missed his connecting flight and had to wait five hours for the next. This would have been fine if I had had time to tell the hotel driver not to collect him. Unfortunately I didn’t find out until too late to tell them, so the poor driver went all the way to the airport to wait and then return to tell his boss that Mr Miller had never arrived.

I know I should have woken up early, i know i should have written the manager a note or rung reception and left a message or something, but I am on holidays and I didn’t. When I told the staff they were fine and driver then took me to the airport to meet Mal and the all important bottles of gin (for me) and bourbon (for him). More about the bourbon later.

We went back to the hotel through the normal Indian traffic which amazed Mal as there were no deaths, collisions or even scrapes, due to the appropriate level of horn/brake/horn. I think that it was the horn/brake/horn that amazed him the most.

Upon arrival at the hotel I took Mal to the roof and showed him the view. He seemed happy with it. In fact it amazed him that day and for the entire time we were there. What do you think of it?

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I was originally planning on having a quiet trip this year, but with Mal here I decided to be a good host and show him about. Day one involved a tour of The City Palace.

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The third of the building closest to the camera is the current Maharana of Udaipur’s home. The furthest third is the City Palace Museum and the middle third is two four star international hotels.

We spent the afternoon having a cruise around the lake followed by a beer in the gardens of Jag Mandir Palace.

The next day Mal and I went for a long walk through the city where Mal managed to get a ‘great deal’ on some tailor-made shirts and I managed to avoid buying any shirts, rugs, handmade paper books or trinkets.

The next day we took a long trip to a 16th century Rajput fort called Kumbhalgarh which amazed us both. The palace within the fort was full of very domestic sized spaces with beautifully decorated walls and stunning views of the countryside.

The highlight of the day however was a long stop at Ranakpur. The pictures in the Wikipedia entry do not do anything approaching justice to the space and the amazing amount of human energy that went into creating it.

The next few days in Udaipur were spent doing nothing much except relaxing and sitting on my bum. Mal was a little worse for wear on our last day but I am sure that the broken bourbon bottle and the cut on his heel had nothing to do with that.

Now with tales of drunkenness delayed and a few more miles to travel I will leave you here and write another chapter tomorrow or the next day.

Having fun in Mumbai and then moving on

Mumbai and environs

So with Hansi coming to pick me up I was able to settle in and start to have some fun. The next few days passed in a very gentle blur with dinners and lunches at street carts and a great few drinks at the Big Nasty The Big Nasty. Great G&Ts and fantastic chili fries.

We had a great side trip with a new friend of Hansi and I called Vivek to a dam and artificial lake about 90 minutes outside Mumbai. This is us at the lake. Vivek is the one in the striped shirt. Cute huh? We aren’t sure what his story is. Ideas on the back of an envelope please.

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While we were there we went to a strange little restaurant cafe where we were able to go on a very short speedboat ride around part of the lake. The restaurant cafe was also home to one of the weirdest gins I have ever seen (including a sign I once saw in India which included the phrase “attention to deatails our specialiti”. This is the sign in question.

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As suggested by a friend mine, perhaps the animals are sore losers.

For your reference

I realised that I need to keep these entries shorter if I am to entertain you all regularly and still have time for my holiday. So that’s it for now. More later including; my adventures in Jaipur and Jodhpur and the arrival of an additional Malcolm (seen below) in Udaipur.

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Having fun in Mumbai and then moving on

Mumbai and environs

So with Hansi coming to pick me up I was able to settle in and start to have some fun. The next few days passed in a very gentle blur with dinners and lunches at street carts and a great few drinks at the Big Nasty http://mumbaiboss.com/2011/10/31/bar-review-the-big-nasty/. Great G&Ts and fantastic chili fries.

We had a great side trip with a new friend of Hansi and I called Vivek to a dam and artificial lake about 90 minutes outside Mumbai. This is us at the lake. Vivek is the one in the striped shirt. Cute huh? We aren’t sure what his story is. Ideas on the back of an envelope please.

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While we were there we went to a strange little restaurant cafe where we were able to go on a very short speedboat ride around part of the lake. The restaurant cafe was also home to one of the weirdest gins I have ever seen (including a sign I once saw in India which included the phrase “attention to deatails our specialiti”. This is the sign in question.

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As suggested by a friend mine, perhaps the animals are sore losers.

For your reference

I realised that I need to keep these entries shorter if I am to entertain you all regularly and still have time for my holiday. So that’s it for now. More later including; my adventures in Jaipur and Jodhpur and the arrival of an additional Malcolm (seen below) in Udaipur.

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Landing in Delhi and getting the hell out.

Delhi

I was quite surprised when I landed in Delhi, as last last time I was there the airport was disgusting.  This time it was all new and fresh.  It took me a while to realise that it was because of the Commonwelath Games, not because they heard that I was coming back.

The airport was sparkling clean with an amazing sculpture over the immigration desks of hands in the classic Hindu meditation poses.  Very special and rather lovely at the same time.

The queue to get through immigration was also short and professionally managed (another change from the last time I was in Delhi).

The roads from the airport to the city were as insane as always and the Rickshaw driver tried to get me to go to a ‘better hotel’ but even that was half hearted as he only tried twice.

Waking up at almost 11 was a little bit of a shock as check-out was at 12, but the hotel staff were fine and I went for a nice wander about to find somewhere to book a ticket to get me Mumbai and my friend Hansi.  I managed to find the same shop that Robbie and I booked tickets in last trip and the owner and I had a great discussion about the demolition of the front of his shop in 2009 to accommodate the widening of the road to make it better(?) for the visitors to the Games.

The fact that after they had widened it they had decided to allow vehicular traffic down what had been a pedestrian only street seemed to have slipped the planners minds.  Good to see that some things about India remain the same.

I managed to get to the airport in plenty of time which ended up being very useful as they wouldn’t allow the litre of Duty Free gin in my carry on luggage and the rather officious woman at the screening desk cancelled my boarding pass and ordered me to go through check-in all over again.

Thea domestic airport is not quite as good as the international one, but it was ok and with the exception of the ‘yes you can/no you can’t’ wi-fi in the terminal, the flight to Mumbai was standard.  In fact with the ‘buy your own water and food’ policies now in place on most indian airlines, I might as well have been flying Jetstar or Virgin.

Mumbai

I arrived at Mumbai and realised that I didn’t have any idea of where in Bandra (a suburb of Mumbai) Hansi actually lived so a lovely woman in the airport allowed mobile use her mobile to make a call and then get precise direction to her apartment.  Only two problems, 1) I didn’t write them down & 2) unless you actually know Bandra you can’t find her apartment block using them anyway.

You see addresses in India are a little unique.  They don’t follow the logic ours do.  Let me explain; I live at 54 Reiby St in Newtown, so if a cabbie needs to get you to my house she or he simply looks it up on a map or a sat nav system and follows that to the house.

In India the address is likely to be expressed as: Apartment 301, Tower B Jones Complex, off Carter Rd near McDonalds, Bandra West. The level of knowledge required usually needs detailed instructions from the person who lives in Apartment 301. I was given these by Hansi but as I didn’t know the landmarks (nor did the cabbie) I was kind of stuffed.

This meant that the fail safe plan had to be activated. I went to a coffee shop that we both knew in Hansi’s neighborhood and convinced the guys there to let me call her.  I bought two packets of biscuits in gratitude. Then Hansi came and got me and I was sorted.

Hansi was very glad to see me and said as much, although her joy may have been assisted by the fact that I had the gin in my bag.

Initial thoughts about the holiday, holidays and planning things that maybe shouldn’t be planned.

Are you excited about this trip?

The ‘start’ of this trip has been interesting. I write ‘start’ because I have been a little unsure when the ‘Holiday to India’ was going to start and when the rest of the stuff that happened at the end of 2011 stopped.

A few people have even remarked on what they seem to be seeing as my lack of excitement about this trip. Robbie was even more direct about it yesterday when he asked me, “Are you excited?”. In all honesty I can say that I am, but that I am finding it difficult to demonstrate it this time. I wonder whether it is due to the timing of this trip or something else?

Usually there is a distinct break between work, life, & Christmas and the start of my trips away.  This time however I was at work tidying things up and making sure that I had finished all of my work tasks until 3:00pm on Friday. Then it was straight to the domestic airport for a trip to Melbourne to spend some time with Rob’s family and the continual joy that is my darling Georgina.  This was followed by a trip back home at 8:00pm on Boxing Day with an 9 hour turn-a-round for my flight to Delhi via Hong Kong.

Most things in life seem to come with built in beginnings and ends; jobs, tasks, years, events etc.  Some things however just don’t seem to have that nice clean delineation between their beginning and end.  This trip seemed to be determined to be one of those amorphous things.  I decided that the only way to recast it is to create a sense of beginning to it.  I decided that the start of this entry would be the start of the trip.  I know that there will be an end to it, so the imposition of a start doesn’t seem too arbitrary.

My beginning was to work out what to do and where to be on this trip. This time there may be two added joys; one being catching up with a friend who lives here and taking her with me on some parts of the trip and the second, catching up with a friend from home and showing him around for the first time. Since starting this piece both of those added joys have been confirmed so maybe starting the trip with the entry was a good decision otherwise the things happening on the trip would have started happening before the actual trip.

There are a number of things that I hope to experience on this trip.  Some are old experiences that I want to revisit, while a few of them are new or different.  In no particular order the ones I want to enjoy for the first time are; wandering through the caves at Ajanta & Ellora, spending time in Akbar’s failed city of Fatephur Sikri and enjoying the serenity and artistry of the Jain temples at Ranakpur.

There are other things that may occur and indeed some of the things I want to happen may not, but I have decided that I will accept the unplanned on this trip as much as I have on past trips and let it have some space.  The things and places that I hope to revisit include: shopping in Mumbai, having a beer or three on a roof terrace in Udaipur as the sun sets over the mountains and visiting the markets in Old Delhi.

I have to say that writing this entry does seem to be having the effect I hoped it would; I am starting to feel excited about the holiday and I am looking forward to it doing its thing.

Information

This blog was initially going to just be about the trip and be a simple (although idiosyncratic) travelogue on India.  I realised fairly quickly that if I was writing it then it also would be interesting to me (and possibly some of you) if I also wrote about the thoughts and ideas that occurred to me as I reflected on the various things, people and events that happen between now and when i get home. So as its my blog you will get a bit of that as part of each entry.
Now in order to assist you, I will divide each entry into the descriptive (the first part of each entry) and the (self)prescriptive (the second part of the entry).

Reflections

I think that there is something here that I should try to apply more broadly in my life.  Too often I try and plan everything (option a) or I find that I have planned nothing (option b).

Both of these options tend to provide their own stresses if they are not both allowed to have their place in my life  Perhaps I need to concentrate on trying to do only as much of option a as necessary and be a little more accepting that I can do only so much planning understanding that option b will happen anyway.  The task for me is to work out what events fit under the heading of ‘option a’ and which events are in the box marked ‘option b’.

I think that the last few days have demonstrated that although some elements of holidays require an ‘option a’ approach they basically fit under option b.  Even this basic learning has taken the best part of a week, but just calming down and accepting that holidays will just happen has been a positive experience and has resulted in me sleeping well and feeling a little more relaxed.

I am here

OK folks and followers.

I just thought that I would let you all know that I have arrived in one piece and that I have slept and had a chai. I am therefore officially here.

I have written a longer piece and I will post it tomorrow, but I jut though that you might like to know the basics.

Malcolm

Why India?

I get asked the same question by at least two or three different people each time I say that I am going on holiday to India. It is always a variation on:

“What is it about India that so fascinates you and makes you want to visit it time and time again?  There are so many amazing places in the world that you haven’t been to yet, why don’t you go somewhere different this time.”

I have to say that I understand the logic of the question and I can see why people ask it. However it is very difficult one for me to answer.

The first time I went to India was 2001 and I simply decided that I wanted to go somewhere overseas that wasn’t Europe or the USA and have a holiday.  I had about 5 weeks leave owing and I wandered off to the Travel Agent and had a chat with one of the staff there.

I have no idea how or even why I decided to go to India. Although I had wanted to go there before walking into the Travel Agency, it wasn’t like there was a great burning need to go.

I expected India to be interesting, colourful and exotic, but ultimately predictable; foreign but predictably so.  I didn’t expect it to be a completely different way of experiencing everything, and by ‘everything’, I do actually mean everything.

On that first trip there were almost no reference points for me to try and connect to in order to navigate the maelstrom.  Something as simple as purchasing a train ticket involved forms and queues and Foreign Tourist quotas and the potential of bribes to get to the head of the queue.

The food on the menus wasn’t ‘normal’ Indian food with some vegetarian options; the menus were divided into Veg and Non-Veg categories with the Veg option being the standard and the larger of the two almost everywhere. On top of that even in the nicer places, people were eating with their right hand.

There were cows walking down the middle of the roads in Delhi (a city with a population of about 18 million in 2001) and the traffic seemed to obey no discernible rules.  There were people making drinks and cooking food for sale from small carts on the footpaths and they were only on the bits of the footpaths that weren’t full of houses; and there were a lot of houses on the footpaths.

I was feeling unable to work out how to do normal stuff like buy a cup of coffee or get around. By the end of that first frustrating and bemusing week I realised that the only way that I could function and enjoy myself was to throw all of the Sydney ways of doing things out, look around, work out how India and Indians got by and follow their lead.

I have to say that it was the most liberating thing that I have ever done in my life and it is the single constant piece of advice that I give to anyone who tells me that they are going to India and asks for tips.  I simply tell them,

“Leave Sydney in Sydney and understand that there is only one way to do things in India; the same way that the people around you are doing things.”

One example of this is understanding that it is acceptable to pay people to get preferential treatment at places like train stations. In Australia this is called a bribe and anyone paying one or accepting one (in fact even hinting that one is willing to pay or accept one) is committing a crime. Now this is also true in India in theory.

In practice there is almost always an ‘agent’ who can get you a ticket on a full train for a fee of 10-20% extra. This is partially due to the fact that there are always seats left vacant on trains in case Members of Parliament or their families wish to travel (something they almost never do) or seats within the Tourist Quota (yes such a thing also exists) that are booked but not paid for and any number of other reasons that a full train will almost always have seats available.

As a foreigner I had no idea what was and wasn’t acceptable until I started watching the locals and seeing how they did things. Once I realised that the agents were in fact providing exactly what they said they could provide, I followed the example and buying train tickets became a lot less complex.

Believe me when I say it’s complex. Any country which has a 200+ page book called ‘Trains at a Glance’ does not have a train system for the uninitiated.

Having said that I also discovered that the way things were done in one Indian place was often different from the way that they were done in other places.  That is actually one of the things that keeps drawing me back.  I continue to enjoy the sense of surprise at the ‘local variations on the theme of normal’. I also continue to be challenged by the need to accept that variation for what it is and function within it.

I know that doesn’t really explain ‘Why India’, but I think that it goes some way to explaining what it is that I find interesting about the place.

One of the things that I hope that I can adopt as a result of this trip, now that I am a little more aware of the mental health challenges that I am facing, is to learn to live with the types and number of variations that exist in my everyday life wherever I am, not just when I am in India.

The conditions that I am learning to deal with are better managed by letting a lot of stuff ‘through to the keeper’ (yes folks a cricket metaphor in a piece about getting by in the most cricket mad country in the world) and working out how to deal with the stuff that requires dealing with. So maybe it’s a skill I need to acquire.

The First Post of Many

As it says at the top, this was originally intended to be a blog simply about my travels to India, but I have decided that as the whole of life is a journey I will use it to write about other trips that I take as well as the physical ones. I have always found that talking things through (generally with one or more of you) helps me see them more clearly.  Who knows maybe writing on here and talking to you all online will work in a similar way.

My next to trip to India starts on the 27th of December and I return on the 5th of February.

With the blog I expect to be able to write in shorter bursts, a bit more frequently and with a little more ease than I have in past years.  I can also add photos and you can all add comments about things I see and write about. The amount of time that I used to spend in internet cafes writing week long travelogues was draining to be honest with you all.  I can write this on my trusty iPad and then simply connect to the web, upload it and get back to experiencing this thing called life.

Most of the people reading this will be my friends or family, so I expect you to talk to me through the course of my travels.

On this trip I will be visiting some of my favourite places as well as some that are new to me.

This trip I will be going to (although not in this order):

  • Punjab
  • Fatephur Sikri
  • Ranakpur
  • Bombay
  • Udaipur
  • Calcutta
  • Varanasi
  • Orissa
  • Bihar
  • The Ajanta & Ellora caves
  • The Sundarbans

I will be catching up with the marvellous Rashmi in Bombay and helping her decorate her new apartment with lots of wonderful trips to design houses and the amazing Chor Bazaar in search of great second-hand furniture and other elements to add to her lovely new home.

On a more personal level, I am also hoping to find a place to do a short meditation course in order to start to learn how to deal with my ADHD and learn some skills around creating a bit more internal order and quiet to the chaos that can be my head at times.

I hope that your ability to interact with me and mine to interact with you while I wander and wonder will be fun.

Malcolm