Written by koshkha on 28 Aug, 2013
This particular scam is one I’ve often read about but hadn’t ever experienced until we were in Delhi in 2012. I knew the scam – unfortunately my gullible husband didn’t, and he’s the one on whom it was perpetrated. Luckily it didn’t cost him too…Read More
This particular scam is one I’ve often read about but hadn’t ever experienced until we were in Delhi in 2012. I knew the scam – unfortunately my gullible husband didn’t, and he’s the one on whom it was perpetrated. Luckily it didn’t cost him too much but he learned his lesson and he won’t get caught out again.We were in a very touristy area, walking between Connaught Circle towards Janpath, passing above the underground Palika Bazaar. We’d been distracted by a mongoose in a bush – though I have no reason to suspect this cute little critter was in on the game. The grass was so dry that it almost crackled under foot, the soil was dry and cracked. As we reached the end of the grass bank, I jumped down and my husband followed. A passing shoe-shine man contrived to be in exactly the right place at the right time. His skills of timing and placement were worth the cost of the scam and I retain a certain degree of admiration for how he pulled it off. I jumped down and turned to give my husband my hand. He dislocated his knee a few years ago and is wary of steps, let alone a jump of a foot or more. He was looking at me and not at his feet. As Tony landed, the shoe shine man pointed to his boot. "Sir, sir, dog shit, sir" (no word of a lie, these were his exact words). Weren’t we fortunate that he just happened to be there with his shoe shine kit to help us out. We explained that he couldn’t clean Tony’s boots because they were expensive ones (not that they looked it) that can only be cleaned with special products. Odd as it sounds, they are indeed Goretex breathable leather boots and this was entirely true. "No problem sir, I just clean it off". Out came a grubby looking cloth, a little brush and he set to work. Tony was reaching for a note to give the guy – fortunately not a big one so I didn’t interfere. A good wife should not really give her hubby a dressing down in a public space over a matter of perhaps 50 rupees. I dragged him away laughing before he could get too attached to his new shoe shine buddy. "Did you ever see dog poo that came out like liquid diarrhoea?" I asked him. "Look how dry the ground is, there’s no way that came out of a dog and sat around waiting for you to tread in it, on the TOP of your boot, not the bottom". I’m no expert on dog poo but I knew the colour the consistency and even the smell were all wrong. The helpful shoe shine man most likely had a small squeezy bottle in his pocket filled with watered down cow dung of a perfect squirting consistency. He’d waited for Tony to be distracted, squirted his shoe and then presented himself as his guardian angel. No dog had been needed, just a quick bit of sleight of hand. Luckily Tony’s fear of the guy ruining his Goretex prevented him being conned for more money and we took the whole thing in good spirits. I’d never seen the poo-scam before but I’d read about it fifteen years earlier and had actually been quite surprised to have escaped it for so many years. Tony doesn’t read guidebooks and forums and so was clueless about what was going on. He declared that if it happened again, he’d just poor water on his boot to clear the "Sir, Sir, dog shit" and wave the potential rescuer away. Close
Written by koshkha on 27 Aug, 2013
If you're reading my reviews about Dharamsala and thinking "Why on earth would anyone go there?" then the purpose of this is to explain where the attraction lies. The Indian state of Himachal Pradesh has a lot of cities and many of them get largely…Read More
If you're reading my reviews about Dharamsala and thinking "Why on earth would anyone go there?" then the purpose of this is to explain where the attraction lies. The Indian state of Himachal Pradesh has a lot of cities and many of them get largely ignored by the tourist trade but Dharamsala's a bit special and draws visitors from all around the world. Strictly speaking, it's not really Dharamsala itself which draws the crowds – is a little place just up the hill from the main city. Some refer to it as Upper Dharamsala or by the absurdly multi-racial name of McLeod Ganj which combines aspects of both its British colonial history and its Indian roots. All surprising when the main thing the place is known for is neither British nor Indian. The answer is simple and it's one man and a Tibetan at that - Jetsun Jamphel Ngawang Lobsang Yeshe Tenzin Gyatso – more commonly known as the Dalai Lama. When China invaded and occupied Tibet in the early 1950s, there was a viscious crack-down on Buddhism. In 1959 the Tibetans rebelled with the Tibetan Uprising and fearing for his life, the Dalai Lama and some of his followers fled to India. The Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru allowed His Holiness and his followers to set up their ‘Government in Exile’ in Dharamsala. Interestingly, the region of India more commonly referred to as 'Little Tibet' is not the Dharamsala area, that's further north and higher in the Himalaya in Ladakh, but the area is very cut off from the rest of the world and perhaps a touch too close to the borders with Pakistan and China. No sense relocating and then risking getting invaded again.It’s estimated that another 80,000 of His Holiness's followers also went into exile in order to follow their leader and escape the Chinese oppression. Since setting up in Dharamsala the Dalai Lama has worked tirelessly to promote the rights of his countrymen and women back home in Tibet whilst spreading his Buddhist teachings to people all over the world. I honestly don't know anyone who doesn't think the Dalai Lama one of the world's most widely recognised ‘cool dudes’.It's not beyond possibility to actually see His Holiness if you plan ahead, apply in advance, can be flexible about your dates and fit around his travel programme but for most of us who roll up without any such preparation, it's unlikely that you'll just get lucky and run into him. That's no reason not to go though – think of the many people who go to Buckingham Palace every year without expecting to see the Queen. Whether His Holiness is there or not, it's still a fabulous place to visit, and offers a unique possibility to observe a community retaining their very specific culture whilst living in exile. Dharamsala isn't so much a place to 'do' as a place to soak up the atmosphere and to just enjoy hanging around in a town full of Tibetans, Buddhists from all over the world, a large number of hippies and a few random tourist like us. The Dalai Lama's temple is the biggest show in town and the chief attraction for most visitors but there's a lot more to do. The hippy visitors are well served with people happy to realign their chakras, teach them meditation and mindfulness, sell them crafts or teach them yoghurt weaving or whatever's the big new-age trend at the time. It's a very un-Indian place, and it’s well worth a visit for the experience of something very different.Dharamsala is also historically linked to the Ghurka regiments who have an important Hindu temple in the town, and also retains elements of the city's past as a British colonial outpost. Even if history means nothing to you, it's a lovely cool, high altitude retreat, surrounded by spectacular mountain views. Close
Written by koshkha on 24 Aug, 2013
We left our base at the Sun Park hotel in Manali to head off to Dharamsala but things started a little slowly. Our poor driver, Mr Singh, was late arriving because he’d been staying in a drivers’ hostel where there was no hot water in…Read More
We left our base at the Sun Park hotel in Manali to head off to Dharamsala but things started a little slowly. Our poor driver, Mr Singh, was late arriving because he’d been staying in a drivers’ hostel where there was no hot water in the morning because the cold night had frozen everything. We were due to leave at about 8.30 but finally hit the road closer to 9 o’clock. There’s no point stressing about such things when you’re surrounded by giant mountains and it’s the done thing to take your time. The first couple of hours of the journey were simply retracing our route from a few days earlier, heading back along Route 21 towards Mandi. Although we’d been there before, the route felt fresh as we’d been half (or fully) asleep when going the other way. After about two hours we stopped at a roadside dhaba for lime sodas and some interesting local toilet facilities and for Mr Singh to get tea and something to eat and then got back in the car and carried on along the rough roads, heading to lower altitudes than those we’d left behind. The lower altitude areas were characterised by quite different scenery. This is a big fruit growing area and we passed lots of orchards and juice processing plants. Mandi seemed to be the biggest city in the area, with a wide, rock-strewn river passing through the centre of the city. I’d have liked to stop and have a look but we still had a long way to go and had to press one.In the early afternoon whilst driving through some orchards, the car got a puncture and we had to stop. Fortunately there was plenty of shade so we weren’t too exposed to the hot mid-day sun. Mr Singh must have had many punctures in his driving career but he clearly didn’t really know what he was doing. Tony, my husband was torn about what to do and held back until Mr Singh realised it wasn’t going to work before getting involved and helping him to put the jack in the right place. The spare tyre had even less tread than the now punctured one and we had to hope that it wouldn’t rain for the rest of the journey. When they finished fixing the tyre, Mr Singh declared "You sir, very good man sir".We then drove on, back up the mountainsides and into the higher Himalaya. The scenery was as good as it can be but after a few hours it becomes hard to really take it all in any more. Twice along the route the car was stopped and our bags were searched. Elections were due to take place soon after and police were checking cars for smuggled alcohol, although quite why they might think two very obviously foreign tourists would have decided to subsidise their holiday with illicit liquor activities was a mystery. My bag was opened and examined in the middle of the road whilst I sat in the car and glared as menacingly as I could manage. Eventually we arrived at about 5 o’clock in the afternoon. Approaching Dharamsala we started to see a change in the people we passed. More were wearing the robes of Buddhist monks and the people were looking more Tibetan and less Indian. Increasing numbers of foreign tourists were wandering around, and as we passed through Dharamsala and up to McLeod Ganj, the home of the Dalai Lama and his followers it was clear that this was going to be a very different type of Himalayan town than we’d visited before. Close
Written by phileasfogg on 12 Aug, 2013
Till well into the 90s, Delhi wasn’t a very happening place when it came to non-Indian food. True, fancy five-star hotels did have good restaurants that served everything from French haute cuisine to the "best dimsums outside Hong Kong" (as a Chinese-born friend of mine…Read More
Till well into the 90s, Delhi wasn’t a very happening place when it came to non-Indian food. True, fancy five-star hotels did have good restaurants that served everything from French haute cuisine to the "best dimsums outside Hong Kong" (as a Chinese-born friend of mine once described them). But if you wanted to eat burgers or a pizza, you had no option but to go to the local Nirula’s. If you wanted ice cream, it was again Nirula’s (which still makes fantastic ice cream). If you craved doughnuts, you made them at home.
Then, sometime in the early 90s, economic reforms aimed at the globalization of the Indian economy slowly began to open the country up to food companies from abroad. Suddenly, imported foods—cheeses, meats, bottled and canned goods, wines and spirits, chocolates—began appearing in Indian markets. Equally importantly for those keen on dining out, multinational food service companies gradually started arriving in India. Delhi (and some of India’s other major cities, like Mumbai, Bangalore, Kolkata and Chennai) are now—or are soon going to be—home to everything from Yauatcha to Benihana, to Sakae Sushi.
While those are the bigger, less ubiquitous names to be seen in Indian cities, there are some which you’ll find all over the place: Domino’s, Pizza Hut, McDonald’s, Subway: these have a presence even in smaller towns, and are hugely popular. How do they stack up against their counterparts in the West?
While the rest of this journal reviews some of the newly-opened, less ‘everywhere’ chain eateries, in this note, I’ll discuss some of the very common ones—the places you’re likely to find in just about every major market in Delhi.
1. Pizza Hut : All you have to do is have a look at the Pizza Hut menu to realize that this is one chain that’s gone all out to appeal to the spice-loving Indian palate, which wants curry on its pizzas (I hasten to add: not all of us fall into that bracket). But, going by the popularity of Pizza Hut’s chicken kebab, green chilli, and chicken tikka-topped pizzas, they’re obviously a hit. There are vegetarian options too, both for pizzas as well as pasta. There are wings, potato wedges, and rolls. All of them (including the garlic bread, which you can order with a topping of chopped onions and green chillies mixed into the cheese!) are a rather predictable fusion of Western and Indian. Be warned: don’t opt for Pizza Hut if you’re a Westerner looking for familiar food.
(Do note, though, that the dine-in menu, as opposed to the home-delivery menu, is more extensive and offers more options for less spicy, less-Indianised dishes).
2. Domino’s: Unlike Pizza Hut (which has a substantial number of dine-in outlets), Domino’s remains primarily a pizza take-away or home-delivery place. Most of their stores do have a couple of tables where you can eat if you want, but it’s not as if the menu will be any different, or wider in scope, from what you’d get if you ordered in.
Like Pizza Hut, Domino’s too has ‘Indianised’ its menu—but not too the exclusion of all else, which is one reason I prefer Domino’s to Pizza Hut. For example, while there is a keema do pyaza pizza here (keema do pyaza is a classic North Indian dish of ground meat cooked with lots of onions), there is also a barbecue chicken pizza, and a pepperoni pizza. There are pastas, wraps, lots of vegetarian pizzas (not to mention wraps and rolls), and plenty of options that really pile on the heat, in the form of everything from jalapenos to paprika, to red chillies and green.
3. McDonald’s : McDonald’s was one of the first major chains to arrive in India, and became an instant hit among those who wanted a taste of the West without going too far out of their comfort zone, or having to pay too much for it. Keeping in mind the composition of much of the target audience, McDonald’s in India goes very heavy on the vegetarian: even all the mayo, and the sauces, are egg-free. There are plenty of vegetarian options, ranging from paneer burgers and wraps to the McAloo Tikki burger (with an aloo tikki, a spiced potato patty), Veg Pizza McPuffs, and even vegetarian breakfast items, like the Veg McMuffin.
Also, for those who don’t know: the non-vegetarian burger patties at McDonald’s in India are always either chicken, or (in the case of Filet-o-Fish), fish. There is no beef or pork in any dish here. Even the Sausage McMuffin consists of a chicken sausage, not pork.
The McDonald’s food is pretty much what one expects of food like this: assembly line, mass-produced stuff. To be fair, some of their burgers are not bad—the Chicken McGrill (with a mint chutney sauce) and the McSpicy Chicken are recommended, should you ever end up with no choice but to eat at the Golden Arches.
4. Subway : Like the rest, Subway too has a menu that’s been tailored to Indian tastes. For example, there are loads of vegetarian options, including a spicy potato filling and a spicy mixed vegetable patty. (Unlike McDonald’s, though, Subway do serve pork). However, to make life easier for customers, Subway arranges its menu in such a way that you can immediately spot the ‘Traditional’ dishes—the Italian BMT, Chicken and Bacon Ranch, Turkey, and other sandwiches are listed separately from the ‘Local’ dishes—the Chicken Tikka, Chicken Seekh, Chicken Tandoori, etc. Besides offering subs, they also do salads, a few breakfast dishes, soft drinks, and all of one dessert: a rich chocolate truffle, a Delhi favourite. In addition, jumping on to the ‘healthy’ bandwagon, Subway also have a ‘97% fatfree’ section.
Subway is, like Domino’s, a good place to go if you want familiar fast food: even though it has its fair share of Indianised menu items, there’s lots that will be familiar to palates that crave something non-spicy.
Written by phileasfogg on 16 Jun, 2013
Kochi (or Cochin) has its own special place in history, because this was one of the biggest, busiest and most prosperous cities on the early spice route. It acted as an entrepôt for the spices—cinnamon, nutmeg, pepper, long pepper, turmeric, etc—which grew all along the…Read More
Kochi (or Cochin) has its own special place in history, because this was one of the biggest, busiest and most prosperous cities on the early spice route. It acted as an entrepôt for the spices—cinnamon, nutmeg, pepper, long pepper, turmeric, etc—which grew all along the Malabar coast (of which Kochi is a part). It also acted as a port for ships coming in from Arabia and Africa from the West, China and the Malaccas from the east. This was where it was happening back in the days of Vasco da Gama and the hectic spice trade.
This is where it’s still happening. Kochi is one of India’s major ports. It is home to an international airport; home, also, to the only Indian shipyard that is part of a city; and it is home to the headquarters of the Indian Navy’s Southern Command. More importantly for insatiable travelers, it has loads to offer: a fascinating history (of which many remnants are still to be seen), a rich cultural heritage, lots of natural beauty, and an almost-addictive local cuisine, rich in seafood and spices.
Orientation and getting around: Kochi spreads across three main areas: two islands and the mainland. The easternmost part of the city, which lies on the mainland, consists of the twin cities of Ernakulam and Kochi. This is the modern, commercial part of Kochi—there are malls here, large markets, major hotels, government and private offices, and the massive Cochin Shipyard, which dominates the seafront.
To the west of Ernakulam and mainland Kochi lies a stretch of water known as Vembanadu (or Vembanad) Lake, one of India’s largest lakes. Kochi forms Vembanadu’s link to the Arabian Sea, so this stretch of water is really part-sea, part-freshwater. A bridge (and a ferry) here connects the mainland to the nearest island to the west, Willingdon Island. Willingdon is mostly given over to the navy, and there’s little here for the tourist. Further east—and connected to Willingdon, both by bridge and ferry—is the island on which Fort Cochin sits. This is the touristic centre of Kochi, and where you’re likely to be spending much of your time.
Between Fort Cochin, Willingdon, and Ernakulam, you can travel by ferry, bus, taxi or autorickshaw—all are easily available. While taxis charge up to about Rs 3,500 for a full day’s hire, autorickshaws are a cheaper way of travelling over longish distances—we spent only Rs 70 for an hour’s drive around Fort Cochin and the Jew Town area, including waiting time.
Within Fort Cochin, walking is the best option: there are sights to see every few metres, and it’s a usually pedestrian-friendly area of quiet tree-lined lanes.
Must-sees and must-dos: Most of Kochi’s best attractions are historic, and clustered in and around Fort Cochin. The Chinese Fishing Nets, huge cantilevered nets that were originally set up by traders from the court of Kublai Khan, are the most visible sights along the sea front. A few minutes’ walk from here will bring you to St Francis’s Church, the oldest European-built Church in India—and the place where Vasco da Gama was briefly interred before his remains were taken back to Europe by his son. Near the church is the Dutch Cemetery, and nearby, the Bishop’s House, within the grounds of which is the fascinating Indo-Portuguese Museum. Further east, and towards the north, lies Kochi’s other major cathedral, the Catholic Santa Cruz Basilica, originally dating back to the 16th century, though the present building is an upstart, barely a hundred years old.
All of these areas can be covered in a single walk, with perhaps a stop for refreshments at one of the many tea- and coffee-shops on the atmospheric
Princess Street, lined with lovely old colonial buildings. While you’re in the vicinity, do make it a point to visit the Cochin Cultural Centre, which hosts a daily hour-long Kathakali performance.
Further out (and it’s advisable to take an auto or taxi), but also on the same island, is Jew Town, home to Kochi’s Paradesi Synagogue, a beautifully restored old synagogue that is worth a visit. Nearby is a large Spice Market (and lots of smaller retail shops where you can buy a range of Keralan spices, including some, like the large glossy seeds known as ‘massaging seeds’) that aren’t really known outside of Kerala). Also within close range is the Mattancherry Dutch Palace, built by the Dutch for the king of Kochi and now converted into a museum.
Further out, on the mainland, are other attractions. The Kerala Folklore and Theatre Museum, in Ernakulam, is an amazing (even if very jumbled!) storehouse of artefacts from not just Kerala, but also other parts of South India. Also in Ernakulam is the Thripunithura Hill Palace Museum—this one, sadly, was closed on the one day we had some hours free to see it, so we missed it. It was highly recommended by some of the people we met, so we’ll make it a point to include it in our itinerary the next time we’re in Kerala.
Further out from Ernakulam, you should certainly go on a cruise along the green, beautiful, and serene backwaters of Kerala: cruises range from a half-day tour to tours of a couple of days, where you live on a traditional Kerala houseboat known as a kettuvallom. Beyond the backwaters, and on the mainland, are two lovely little places for getting a closer look at Kerala’s wildlife: the Thattekad Bird Sanctuary, which is one of India’s richest reserves of avifauna; and the Kodanadu Elephant Training Camp, where the Forest Department trains elephants for its work in the forests—this is an especially delightful place to see elephants (particularly the adorable calves!) at close quarters.
Eating out: If you like seafood (and more so if you like your seafood spicy!), Kochi is one of those cities that will warm the cockles of your heart. Fish, crabs, prawn, mussels and squid are among the popular items on local restaurant menus, and recipes run the gamut from the thoroughly traditional to the interestingly modern fusion meals that combine local Malabar food with Western influences. Also, since Kochi has long been a melting pot of different cultures and religions (including the Syrian Christian community, the Jews, and the Muslims), even the local cuisine isn’t completely homogenous.
For more details, read my journals on my favourite places to eat in Kochi, and some other restaurants that we dined at, but didn’t like as much.
Written by koshkha on 27 May, 2013
Many Indian cities have a street called ‘Mall Road’ and Manali is no exception. I cannot be sure, but my assumption is that it’s a generic term referring to a pedestrian street with only very limited vehicular access. The most famous of the Mall Roads…Read More
Many Indian cities have a street called ‘Mall Road’ and Manali is no exception. I cannot be sure, but my assumption is that it’s a generic term referring to a pedestrian street with only very limited vehicular access. The most famous of the Mall Roads is in Shimla and has long been a place for promenading back and forth, looking in the shop windows, looking at other people and wearing your best clothes because other people will equally be looking at you. In Manali there is also a Mall Road but it’s rather more down to earth than Shimla’s namesake. For a start it lacks the ‘Little England’ rows of shops and civic buildings which echo the builders’ memories of life back home in the Home Counties of genteel England. Manali was never the sophisticated and scandalous summer bolt hole of the British and their government in India so it picked up fewer pretensions and fewer ‘Englishisms’.We walked the length of Mall Road Manali as part of our day’s sightseeing. More precisely, we walked it twice – once up, once back – in search of a place to eat and a bit of people watching. We found a bustling street filled with people of all colours and types of regional dress, strolling around. The locals in their traditional brightly coloured clothing, and Indian tourists from across the country all mingled with their different outfits. Nobody seemed to be in a hurry and most were wandering, drifting from shop to shop, stopping to look in the windows, buy a few souvenirs of find somewhere for a hot drink and something to eat.Mall Road is not very long – my guess would be that the pedestrian area is no more than about a quarter of a mile long – and it’s actually just a small section of route 21, the Leh Manali highway. At the southern end of Mall Road, the highway (I use the term loosely, this is India, it’s not Route 66!) is diverted through a dog-leg that bypasses the pedestrian area and rejoins route 21 close to the bridge which crosses the Beas River.The Taxi Stand (the place where, not surprisingly the taxis all gather to wait for business) is at the southern end of Mall Road. The Bus Stand, is across the road from the taxi stand. Heading up the road – by which I mean heading north or against the flow of the River Beas – you find a small wooden temple on the left hand side. This is one of those Indian temples that looks brand new but could – for all I know – have been there forever. We didn’t go in because it looked like they were still building it but of course they may have been doing repairs. The road is quite wide and nobody needs to jostle for space. We looked in the windows of the souvenir shops, tried to find a place to eat and then, once we’d eaten we wandered back down the road.Our hotel had no wi-fi (despite claiming that it did) so we found an internet cafe where my husband deposited me for half an hour (about 10 rupees) and went shopping whilst I was tapping away. Freed from the constraints of me watching over him, he buzzed about Mall Road and the surrounding back streets and bought a glow in the dark Ganesh covered in small crystals which he swore he would put on the dashboard of his car and a pair of adhesive printed eyes to put on the bonnet of his car. We have the most ‘desi’ Peugeot in England and probably the only one driven by a white guy who isn’t a Hindu.After I’d done my mail, we wandered a little more. I spotted one of the ‘Pimp my bunny’ ladies in traditional dress taking a rest with her angora rabbit friend. We popped down the side streets to look at the beautiful vegetable displays and to try to track down a book store which turned out to be closed for no apparent reason. We photographed the small vehicles lined up for delivering goods and then eventually, when we could take no more, we stopped for cold coffees in a cheap street-side cafe. Eventually we headed back to the car park to find Mr Singh, waiting for us and ready to take us to our next temple. Close
Written by koshkha on 19 May, 2013
There's a typical Indian dog on which all others seem to be based. He – or she – is mid-sized, standing about knee high to a typical adult and is most likely to be gingery brown although black and tan varieties are also common. What…Read More
There's a typical Indian dog on which all others seem to be based. He – or she – is mid-sized, standing about knee high to a typical adult and is most likely to be gingery brown although black and tan varieties are also common. What you won't often find is a fully black dog or a 'something and white dog' – the gingery brown is the mark of the Indian dog. In most of India he's short haired although his mountain cousins grow longer coats to cope with the cold and they certainly need the extra help.The typical Indian dog has a pointed face, a slightly 'foxy' look, and a trim body since few get fed regularly enough to run to fat. Many have curly tails and depending on how much trouble they've got into in their lives, they may be missing part of that tail – Indian dogs are not overly blessed with road sense and the lucky ones will escape with only the loss of part of their tail.The favourite activities of the Indian dog are scavenging, running around with their pack and, best of all, finding a sunny patch to sleep in – never mind if it's in the middle of the road or right behind someone's car, a dog's gotta soak up the sun.Most of these typical Indian dogs have no official home although many will have found a family or shop to adopt. Most Indians – with the exception perhaps of Muslims who I’m told believe dogs to be unclean – seem quite happy to have a dog about the place if that dog chooses them as its humans. Dogs massively outnumber cats on the streets of India and it's much rarer to come across a cat.The Indian dog is low maintenance and he won't expect you to groom him, take him to the vet, get his inoculations or buy him presents – he certainly won't expect you to get him neutered. In return for his offer of something akin to affection and a bit of barking if anyone comes to your home, he'll expect little more than your warmest patch of sunshine and a few kitchen scraps. He won't expect to be fed twice a day – he's more than capable of dealing with keeping himself fed as he strolls the streets with his canine buddies.In a city he may – if you've neglected to give him a good place to sleep – choose to roam the streets with his friends, howling loudly long into the night. Whilst this is amusing for a short while it grows stale very quickly. Indian girl dogs will produce pups with regularity and these will be some of the cutest little critters you've ever seen. However the tourist should take care not to be lured into petting puppies or full sized dogs. At best they'll have fleas, at worst you'd better hope you paid for your rabies jabs, the ones that cost a fortune and need redoing every 3 years. Cute means 'look but it’s better that you don't touch'.Very occasionally you'll see a dog that doesn't meet the norm of the highly evolved and perfectly adapted Indian ginger dog. In the Himalayas we came across a couple of small white fluffy dogs and a number of what appeared to be pedigree Alsatians. We even saw two St Bernards who looked right at home in the mountains and are even better adapted to the snow than the archetypal hairy version of the standard mutt. However all of these other dogs will never match up to the standard Indian dog in terms of survival skills and adaptation to their environment.In the cities you may occasionally come across pedigree pets but these are restricted to well-to-do areas. If you've got a dog that’s not evolved to take care of himself (and one that's worth quite a lot of money) then you can't just let it go out and stroll the streets. You'll need to hire a walker or have a spare servant or two to take him out for exercise and toilet breaks. You'll not want your posh top dog to be hanging out with the local boys – especially if she's a girl – so if you don't want your dog mixing with the wrong kind of dogs, you'll need to make sure that it's rarely off the lead and that any potential suitors are kept away. We met the owners of an upmarket Delhi B&B whose small pedigree pooch had been shaved and stitched after an altercation with a monkey in the garden. The poor little thing was all fluff and no fight and came off much the worst in the negotiation. It may seem like a strange thing to say, but I’ve passed many an Indian hour watching local dogs doing their thing. I fall in love with most of them, especially the cheeky ones, the ones with the bent tails or the ripped ears but when they’re out running around the streets at night howling like banshees, I’m ready to go out with a sling shot and ping rocks at the lot of them. Close
Written by koshkha on 18 May, 2013
After a long day of tourism, we were pretty much ready to head back to the hotel for a snooze but Mr Singh, our driver, had other instructions and wasn’t letting us go anywhere until he’d ticked off all the attractions on his list. The…Read More
After a long day of tourism, we were pretty much ready to head back to the hotel for a snooze but Mr Singh, our driver, had other instructions and wasn’t letting us go anywhere until he’d ticked off all the attractions on his list. The last of the day was to be the Vashista Temple. It’s located in the village of Vashisht just a few miles outside of the city upstream of Manali and on the opposite river bank. Getting there took about 15 minutes as we passed along winding narrow roads. We had no particular expectations but were surprised when we arrived in a bustling little place, stuffed with tourist taxis. Everywhere else that we’d been had been very quiet and in most places we were the only tourists there – in fact sometimes the only people there. We realised there must be something a bit special about this place. We also solved the mystery of why there were no backpackers in the main city – quite simply they were all in Vashisht.We still didn’t know what we were about to see but we left Mr Singh with a characteristically vague "back later" from us and a smile and a head wobble from him. He headed off to find a cup of tea and we set off up the hill, passing all the evidence of backpacker focus. Somebody had lost his passport and was offering a reward via posters pinned up on wooden electricity poles. Restaurants offered ‘international’ cuisine – including (and not temptingly) Israeli food as well as plenty of pizzas and easy foreign tourist food. Bars advertised cheap beer and film shows and if you were looking to get a massage or learn about meditation, this was clearly the place to be. I could almost taste the banana pancakes in the air.We saw the temple just as we heard the sound of drums and horns and spotted a crowd of locals gathered around a small square. A young cow bellowed indignantly as two men tried to milk her in a pit in the middle of the square. On the buildings around the square, people were sitting on the upper balconies, looking for a better view of what was going on. In the middle of the square stood a young barefoot couple, he in saffron robe topped off with a rather unattractive grey sweater, she in a white dress with embroidered edge and draped in a deep red, gold trimmed scarf. She was wearing her best jewelry and the two were joined by a pink scarf tied to each of them. Next to them stood another man, older than the first, but wearing the same saffron robe and a rather smart navy blazer. He was tied by a pink scarf to another young woman, dressed very similarly to the first. Beside her was an older lady dressed in the same way. I guessed – but wasn’t sure – that the two couples were getting engaged or married and that the older woman was the mother of the second woman. Of course, it was only a guess. We couldn’t ask the others around us as we were the only foreigners watching the events.Back in the pit, the cow had gone and several men in impressive hats were lighting candles or lamps. One held a bunch of burning twigs and the drummer and horn blowers stopped their musical exertions for a while. We were baffled about what was going on but rather enjoying being a part of it (whatever it was). Then my husband suggested that whilst everyone was distracted by the ceremony, perhaps we should nip into the temple since it would be quieter. A few minutes later when we were inside, we heard the musicians and the ceremonial party leave the square and head off up the hill past the temple. I’ll probably never really be sure what was going on but it was a rare opportunity to witness a ceremony that was clearly important to those who were involved. Close
Written by koshkha on 14 May, 2013
Whether you book directly with Indian hotels or use international hotel booking sites, sooner or later you’ll probably come across the concept of ’24 hour check-in’. I believe – though I can’t be sure – that it’s a uniquely Indian idea and it’s one which…Read More
Whether you book directly with Indian hotels or use international hotel booking sites, sooner or later you’ll probably come across the concept of ’24 hour check-in’. I believe – though I can’t be sure – that it’s a uniquely Indian idea and it’s one which can be very useful and may save you a lot of money, or conversely could see you stressed to the max about being thrown out on the streets in the middle of the night.The idea of 24 hour check in is that you can arrive at a hotel at any time of the day or night, and the room is yours for 24 hours (or 48, or 72 and so on) from the time you arrive. It sounds fairly obvious but it’s an unusual model for hotels to use. In most countries, if you want to arrive before the official earliest check-in time, or leave after the latest check out time, you will find it’s either impossible or you’ll be charged an extra night (or part thereof) for the extra time. Since we like to travel by rail in India and most ‘overnight’ trains roll into town ridiculously early, the standard European idea of killing time until 2 in the afternoon just won’t work. Many Indian cities are completely inactive at 6 or 7 am and your assumption that there’s sure to be somewhere at the railway station to have breakfast and kill time, or you’ll roll into a McDonalds for an egg McMuffin and a read of the newspapers, just isn’t feasible. In Mangalore we had a 24 hour check in deal. We rolled up to our hotel at about quarter to six in the morning, thinking we could sit in the lobby for a couple of hours and then check in. That really wasn’t an option. Whilst they subsequently didn’t have a problem with us hanging around the lobby in the day time after we’d checked out, the night manager clearly couldn’t conceive of two Brits wanting to sit around when they could be in their lovely room. Whilst this meant we were showered and in bed by 6.30 am, the nagging fear at the back of my mind was "What the heck are we going to do when they throw us out at 5.45 am in two days time?". Fortunately we’ve been in this position many times so we knew what to do. First things first, on the day before you leave, go and ask reception if you can have a bit longer. Ask nicely, look a bit pathetic, and hope they take pity on you. It’s not good for any city to have foreign tourists sitting on the street at day break looking sad and dejected. Our last night was a Sunday which is traditionally the quietest night of the week so we had a good chance of an extension but unfortunately it was also a holiday and the hotel was almost full. We were told we could stay until 7.30 am. If you can’t get any extra time for free, try to negotiate to pay for a few hours. We’ve never had to do this – but if charm and looking pitiful won’t work, an offer of a cash payment may persuade a receptionist. If the hotel knows that they won’t have new clients arriving until the afternoon, you may be able to get a bit longer. I would also recommend that you email the hotel before you arrive to let them know you’ll be coming at a ridiculous time. That way you have a better chance of a room being ready, and you’ll have done your best to keep them informed – and made a small deposit in the ‘favour bank’ for when you’re ready to ask for one back.A few years earlier when we’d stayed in Hampi, we knew that at the time we’d arrived – around 6.30 am – there were no staff to check us in. We’d been shown to an empty hut by a young assistant and told to come back later to do the paperwork. Consequently we knew that at 6.30 am on our departing day, nobody would be available to check us out. They happily gave us a free extension to 10 am. Staying in an upmarket B&B in Bangalore, we appealed to the lady owner for a little longer, and made sure she got something from us by agreeing to book our taxi to the airport through her rather than going elsewhere. In Hyderabad, we got so friendly with the owner of a budget hotel, making sure he knew we’d be writing reviews when we got home, that we were offered a few more hours free of charge.24 hour check-in is a great bargain and if you know how to use it, it can save you a lot of money. Just take care to keep on good terms with the hotel, be nice to everyone, take time to chat to the front desk staff and don’t just stay in the room and hope they won’t notice. Ask, ask nicely and if you have to, pay a little extra if you can. If you can’t, be sure to ask to leave your bags whilst you go off and kill time somewhere else. Sadly, it’s very rarely found in the biggest cities or in highly touristic places but check when you book to see if it’s available. If you’re arriving really early or very late, it can mean you avoid paying for an additional day’s accommodation.If you arrived stupidly early and went straight to bed, and if your rate included breakfast, tell them when you check in that you’d like to use your breakfast from the first day on the day that you leave. We happily (and greedily) stretched our breakfast out to two and a half hours by drinking lots of coffee and reading all the papers. Nobody seemed to mind or even to notice that we were taking our time. Close
When we told people our holiday plans included a weekend in Mangalore, we got used to their reactions. Most would correct us – thinking that we were obviously a bit stupid or suffering from speech impediments. "Ah yes" they would say "Bangalore, centre of India’s…Read More
When we told people our holiday plans included a weekend in Mangalore, we got used to their reactions. Most would correct us – thinking that we were obviously a bit stupid or suffering from speech impediments. "Ah yes" they would say "Bangalore, centre of India’s IT and call centre industries". We patiently repeated ourselves and insisted that we were indeed going to Mangalore and, having previously been to Bangalore, we were in no rush to go again. To some degree I can understand their confusion. Bangalore is famous all over the world; Mangalore is barely famous even inside India. OK, maybe that’s a slight exaggeration but not too much. We went for several reasons. Firstly – in the tradition of the great climber George Mallory, we went ‘Because it’s there’. Secondly, we had an open invitation to "Come and see my city – and see how much nicer it is than Bangalore" from an Indian friend and thirdly, it just happened to be conveniently between Kochi and Goa. Faced with an extraordinarily long train journey or two slightly more manageable ones, we decided to change our tickets and chill out by the sea.Mangalore is a coastal city in Karnataka, just over 200 miles west of Bangalore. Whilst in Europe that would be a three hour drive, you can expect to take the best part of a day by road. Fortunately we approached from the south by rail on an overnight train from Kochi. The city has a population of just short of half a million, making it the 21st largest city in India though it’s a mere minnow compared to the major cities of Delhi, Mumbai or KolkataIt has a long tradition as a port and ranks as India’s 9th largest based on the amount of cargo it handles. It’s also the main port for coffee exporting and handles a lot of agricultural products from the fertile and tropical areas nearby. None of this is going to have you reaching for your credit card and planning a visit. Actually, if you’re looking for world class attractions, you’re unlikely to choose Mangalore but it does have a surprising amount of rather fun things to do if you’re looking to pass a couple of days and aren’t expecting the Louvre or Buckingham Palace. You will probably struggle to find too much information about what to see and do – in fact I think my guidebook allocates no more than a few column inches to the city. However, go with the right attitude and you can find charm in this place. Fortunately we got a good briefing from our friends on what was worth a look.If you can, do try to find a way to get to the beach. We were lucky to be taken to a stretch of spotless sand near to a club for merchant navy people. In any European city it would have been packed with sunbathers, but late on a Saturday afternoon we had the place to ourselves. We were also privileged to get taken to a ‘club’ – one of the sports and social societies to which our friend and her family belong. On the Sunday we indulged in masses of Mangalore tourism. One of the most unique things about the city – and do be surprised because it’s never happened in any other city we’ve visited in India – is that auto-rickshaw drivers DO use their meters, even for tourists. I have a greater chance of winning Miss Universe than getting a Delhi taxi or rickshaw driver to use his meter but in Mangalore, all we did was smile, tap the meter and say "Please". Not one driver challenged us. Mind you, they don’t see many tourists.First stop was the spectacular Kadri Manjunath Temple, a complex of temples along with some astonishing statues, a bathing pool and plenty to see. From there we headed to the Bejai Museum, one of the oddest (and lamest) museums we’ve seen in a country with plenty of competition for that honour. Lunch followed in one of the city’s air conditioned malls and then we flagged down another driver to go to the Sultan Battery, an old (and no longer very original) riverside fort. Our driver refused to leave us there because he knew what we didn’t – that it was a five minute attraction and one from where we’d never be able to find a driver to take us back. I handed him my notebook with the last of our must-see attractions, St Aloysius chapel, and he not only drove us there, but hunted for someone to show us around, sat and listened to the guide and then took us back to the hotel – again recognising we hadn’t a clue where we were and would get lost if we tried to find our own way.Faced with killing time for a few hours before our train the next day, I’m ashamed to say we did wander off and find another mall, wandered round the shops and drank over-priced cappuccinos. It’s fair to say that you could probably squeeze most of what we did into a 24 hour visit to the city and if you had longer, there were a few more temples on offer but I’m confident we saw the best – and possibly some of the worst – of what the city had to offer. If you have limited time, my recommendation would be to see the Kadri Manjunatha temple and St Aloysius chapel. You won’t miss much if you skip the museum and the Sultan Battery. Close