A journey back to Middle Earth…

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Saying Goodbye to India

We travelled through five of the many states of India,
Seeing eight different places by aeroplane and car,
We also bought some things so hopefully not too much weight!
Riding on Elephants, seeing the Forts!
Watching the animals, and riding rickshaws!
To much to learn, Gandhi, Moguls and the history of the Forts!
Now we say goodbye to Cochin, Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Gujarat and finally, goodbye Mumbai,
It’s time to fly!

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Last Stop, Mumbai!

We knew that returning to Mumbai after travelling in the country would be a very different feeling to our first arrival in the country 3 weeks prior. Our experiences of the last 21 days had given us a taste of India, and whilst even a whole lifetime would not be sufficient to understand this vast and varied sub-continent, we we certainly a lot more streetwise and acclimatised to our environment.
We were again fortunate and grateful for the warm and generous hospitality of Sudha, who not only accommodated us but also treated us to some more of her home made local tastes and cuisines.

Our penultimate day in India also included another excursion into the city which again reflected the eclectic nature of this metropolis. We began with a visit to the Mahalaxmi Temple which is dedicated to the Hindu Goddess Laxmi, the goddess of wealth. We then stopped off for a view of Mahalaxmi Dhobi Ghat, a 140 year old human powered laundry containing 1026 open-air troughs! Close by was the famous Girguam Chowpatty, more commonly known in English as Chowpatty Beach, which doesn’t really make sense as “Chowpatty” means beach! In any case like many beaches, there were tourists, couples, bathers, picnics, people watchers and even some animals, all with a backdrop of the Mumbai skyline and the orange glow of the sun in its haze.
We had decided that a visit to India, and especially Mumbai, wouldn’t be complete without going to see a Bollywood movie. Given the movie would be in Hindi with no subtitles, it was all about the “experience” and we took Sudha’s suggestion of seeing “Ram Leela”. It was assured to have all of the key elements of a Bollywood classic, a hero & heroine, some (mild) violence, families feuding, lots of singing, dancing and love songs, all set within picturesque scenery. Given it was an adaptation of Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet”, of course we were able to follow it meticulously…! It was great to be able to recognise some of the scenes set in Udaipur where we had been only days earlier. Nevertheless a great escape into the fantasy world of Mumbai’s equivalent of the West End.
Nothing of course could better top the day off than a final taste of India, this time at the Restaurant “Samaat” famous for its “bottomless” Gujarati Thali’s, of which tastes more than adequately matched our day (& probably even last 3 weeks) of widely stimulating all the senses!


India FAQ

To sum up our time in India, I decided to interview Jayesh, Milan and Nilay and try to put some of our more individual India experiences into words:
Q. What has been the most memorable thing for you during the past 3 weeks, while we were in India?
Milan: The Taj Mahal, especially the building with all the gemstones inlaid in the marble
Nilay: The dead cow in the road which had been run over by a bus which had a severely damaged windscreen
Jayesh: Learning about Mahatma Gandhi’s story again and being in some of the places he stepped.
Q. What did you like the best?
Milan: Feeding the monkeys in Jaipur at Jaigarh Fort
Jayesh: Riding through the backwaters in Kerala on a boat
Nilay: I liked so many things, but my highlights were Arkshardham Mandir in Delhi and the swimming pool at the Triveny River Hotel
Q. What did you like the least?
Jayesh: Delhi Belly on the day we visited Agra,
Milan: Being sick with a fever in Kochi
Nilay: Mosquitos and heat in Mumbai
Q. What was the most unexpected / new experience you had in India?
Nilay: The way the trucks look all colourful and the way the horns sound quite cool. Also the bad smells in the big cities.
Milan: The amount of car horns and noise in the streets
Jayesh: So many more “public toilets” (for men at least) – very unpleasant to see!
Q. In which way is India different from any other country you have visited on our trip?
Nilay: Tractors on motorways, slums, cool sunsets
Milan: The amount of motorbikes (with whole families sitting on them)
Jayesh: The prominence of multiple religions
Q. Did you miss anything while in India:
Nilay: I missed my bike
Milan: I missed playing piano
Jayesh: I missed exercising as I only got to go to the gym/run once.

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Back to our Roots

One of the key objectives of our trip and visit to India was for Milan & Nilay to see and experience the area which their paternal grandparents had originated from and spent their early years. For me it had also been 18 years since my last visit to the “gam” (village), so I was also very interested to reacquaint myself with images and experiences and possibly some people from the past. An uncle had kindly offered to my parents to show us around the villages, which was great as his knowledge of the villages and the people made our experience even more fulfilling. We first went to Kothamdi where my the house mum (Ba) grew up in is still standing and exactly how I remembered it, including photos of her family on the walls in the front room. We also met people who know Ba, very pleased to see us visiting and interested to know the connection. Later we went to my fathers village (Machaad) & where his house once stood again meeting neighbours and distant relatives who were very welcoming of “family” who had come ‘home’. Amongst all of this we also had a chance to go to see the locally famous “Dandi” beach, also made intentionally famous by Gandhi by being the location where he ended his epic “salt march”. We were also treated to a fantastic home cooked meal as well as fresh coconut juice from a tree in an uncles back garden. For obvious reasons it was a very different and unique experience of India than the past 20 days. The impact of migration from the villages to the West was clearly evident. There were many original homesteads and families which continue to live in the same area with similar lifestyles carried through generations, mixed with larger and newer houses from those who had gone abroad and come back to retire or build holiday homes. In any case an enjoyable day in a calm and peaceful rural environment and a contrast to the intensity of the cities we’ve visited. Regardless, the core culture and values from which I was brought up on are still clear and better understood through a visit like this, albeit very brief…

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Alavidā Rajasthan, Namastē Gujarat

Today we had what was probably our earliest start yet, a 7:30am, drive from Udipur to Ahmedabad, leaving behind Rajasthan, probably my favourite state in india so far, and entering Gujarat, where papas parents, our grandparents, were born and spent their early years. After our drive and checking in to our hotel, we went to to Gandhi’s Ashram where we learned even more about Gandhi and his achievements as well as seeing the site. An ashram is a place where people can live as long a they follow it’s rules, pray and work within it. Gandhi created this ashram and it was his headquarters for 13 years between 1917 and 1930.
So far we have been to 3 places dedicated to Mohandas K. Gandhi (Raj Ghat, a memorial park for him, Gandhi’s Smitri, where he lived between 1942 and his assassination in 1948, and his Ashram). We have also been watching the film “Gandhi” learning about most of the things he had to do in order to gain independence for India from the British. The Salt March to name one where Gandhi walked 241km between the Ashram he founded, which is where we went yesterday, to Dandi beach where he made salt, breaking the law and in protest to the taxes on salt.
After the Ashram we headed to the ‘old town of Ahmedabad’ where we walked around and looked at a market. After our afternoon of driving and discovering Ahmedabad, we went back to finish the Gandhi film we were watching whilst eating takeaway pizza from “Dominos”!
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The Museum of Random Things

Friday was more of a relaxing day. After breakfast in a “french bakery cafe” down the road of our hotel where I couldn’t  eat my full breakfast of porridge,  we went for a walk nearby the lake and an old man asked to have a photo with Mama (shown below). On the way back we bought a stone carving from a man on the street who said he made all of the figures himself.
In the afternoon we went to a museum also just down the road (everything is quite near) called Bagore-ki-Haveli where we learned about all sorts of stuff from Rajisthani puppets to turbans. There was a whole room full of puppets, elephants camels and people, there are a few photos below.  There was also polystyrene models of buildings like the Eiffel Tower and the Leaning tower of Pisa which was a bit random but cool.  And then finally we looked at the turbans which included the biggest turban on earth (not meant for wearing). After the museum we went to a Mandir (Hindu temple) and did a prayer then listened to women singing bhajans (similar to hymns) inside. We couldn’t resist one last opportunity for lake views where we had dinner at the top of a hotel where there was a lake view restaurant.

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Eye Catching

Our hotel, located in the old city by Lake Pichola, had immediately brought us right into the action in Udaipur. Even though clearly a tourist area, the overall atmosphere created by the mix of hotels, restaurants, shops and village type of life supporting this important industry made us decide this would be a nice place to slow down for a couple of days, and experience the immediate surroundings and attractions on foot.
Obviously a boat ride on the lake could not be missed and allowed us to be immersed into the picturesque scenery, although I think it will take a few more visits before I feel like being immersed into the water! The stop on Jagmandir Island (a former Island Palace built in 1620 which now contains a small hotel), also created a few good photo opps and allowed us to imagine the grandness of this prime location. All the while we could see the all famous Lake Palace Hotel which we’ll save for next time or another life. The afternoon was spent at the City Palace (Rajisthan’s largest) giving us a glimpse of the life of the various maharanas over the centuries.
Amidst all of this and a constant experience as a tourist in India are shipowners, rickshaw drivers, hawkers, restaurant owners, and guides etc.., waiting for the ever so slight glimpse of your eye or indication of interest in their products or services. On one hand, from their perspective it could be the difference between a bad and a good day in this highly competitive industry. On the other, a sad reality of requiring to ignore the attention of many whom in other circumstances may either exploit your naivety or engage an interesting and insightful conversation and honest transaction. I guess we may never know out of the few transactions that we did conduct which was the outcome, but I guess it is only our own point of view that matters…