Keralaaaaaa

A three hour bus ride took us from Mysore to Sultan Batheri in the Wayanad district of Kerala. The journey passed very pleasantly marred only by a slight concern that a fellow passenger’s luggage may escape it’s precarious position and land on my head.

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We found a great restaurant and enjoyed a beautifully spiced biryani and set meal. Fully fortified we squeezed into an auto and headed to Spice Garden Farmhouse where we would hang our hats for the next few days.

The farm is set on 15 acres of coffee, rubber and spice plantation, with a stream, swing, tree house and rabbits. It was a really beautiful place to while away the hours. The boys loved having company in the form of Santosh’s daughters and nieces. During our visit we got to pick coffee beans and learnt how to make rubber sheets.

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We arrived on a Sunday followed by a Public holiday and a state-wide strike. Whilst this meant we didn’t get to visit the nearby wildlife reserve it did afford us with plenty of time with Santosh and his wonderful family who were hosting us. Not to mention all the delicious South Indian food we devoured!

Our next destination was Fort Cochin (read about the fun we had getting there here). We enjoyed having a go on the Chinese fishing nets, seeing a crab sculpture made from waste plastic and wandering through the back alleys admiring Indian antiques and the beautiful architecture. Other than that it was hot, expensive and full of mosquitos. We were quick to move on.

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A chance conversation lead us to Mararikulum. A beautiful and wild stretch of beach on the Keralan coast near to Alleppy. Think postcard perfect; white sand, palm trees and few people.

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We turned up and schlepped down the beach with our backpacks looking for a place to stay. Happily we found a great guest house with a lovely garden, hammocks and lots of friends for the boys to play with. One of whom invited us to visit her school, which is memorable not least for Nick’s basketball demonstration during break time.

Our next stop was another homestay. This time in the backwaters of Kerala.

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I was really looking forward to this part of the trip and it more than exceeded expectations. We were taken on an afternoon tour by canoe through the waterways around Munroe Island and Ashtamundi lake. It was very peaceful and we enjoyed close encounters with many bird species and a beautiful sunset.

The following day our host Vijeesh took us out on a walk round the village. He is very funny and was great at engaging the boys. He told us about many of the plants including a hydrophobic leaf that has been used to model technical waterproofs, an exploding seed pod and he showed us what happens when you slap a fern leaf against your skin.

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(we haven’t been able to it ourselves so will need to find out the trick!)

We also popped into the village kindergarten where we experienced an uncomfortable silence until Nick burst into song, which at least made me laugh, if none of the children.

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We also visited the ladies working hard sorting nuts in the cashew production factory, and some others spinning cotton. The boys cooled off with a dip in the river.

Kerala is a beautiful state; the spice covered hills, the golden sands and the palm fringed back waters. The pace of life seems slower than elsewhere in India, and the food is some of the best we’ve had. It is with happy hearts and happy tummies that we head into Tamil Nadu.

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Trains, planes and auto rickshaws

The plan was simple. Travel by bus from Wayanad in Northern Kerala to Kochi on the coast, changing in Calicut. But you know what they say about the best laid plans of mice and men.

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The first leg passed smoothly enough. We’d gotten an auto from our farm stay to the bus stand in Sultan Bathery and boarded the Kerala State Transport Corporation bus. The scenery was beautiful as we passed through plantations of rubber, coffee, banana and tea. And even the 9 hairpin bends coming downhill didn’t phase us (it was nothing compared to a certain bus journey in Nepal).

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We arrived in Calicut and, after having brought some provisions for the journey, sought the next bus. We were shepherded onboard by a conductor assuring us his was heading for Kochi.

We got comfortable (well as comfortable as we could squeezed into two seats) and settled in for the ride. I promptly fell asleep. Sometime later I woke to the sound of the boys bickering and my frazzled husband trying to mediate. Nick saw I was awake and casually mentioned that he didn’t think we were going the right way.

I dug out our now well-thumbed Lonely Planet and checked the map. We had indeed been going the wrong way. For two hours. We made our enquiries with the conductor who found our situation most amusing. Nick and I did not. Let’s just say we are not proud of our behaviour in the ensuing minutes as the bus stopped and we rather unceremoniously disembarked.

We found ourselves at the side of a dusty road in a small town somewhere. As we gathered ourselves (and apologised to the children for setting a bad example) we checked our belongings. Bugger. George’s backpack was still on the bus hurtling away from us at high speed.

Nick quickly persuaded a nearby motorcyclist to give chase. George and Tomas were upset about the loss of said backpack it’s contents being their books, toys and headphones. I tried to comfort them as I worked out where we were.

Meanwhile the motorbike was speeding down the road weaving in and out of traffic in hot pursuit of the bus. Nick didn’t hold much hope of catching up given the bus driver’s need for speed. Luckily the rider that Nick was clinging onto for dear life recognised our bus at a petrol station about 30km from where we had jumped off.

The boys were hot, bothered and fighting as I tried to work out how we were going to continue our journey. My stress levels were rising and just as I was beginning to fret about Nick’s whereabouts he returned, triumphant, with George’s backpack. What a hero! We tried to give the guy some money to show our appreciation but he was just happy to have helped.

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We made our way to the nearest train station, Mahe, which by happy coincidence was about 5 minutes away. There was a train in half an hour that would take us to Kochi. On the platform we chatted to Ansar, a book salesman from Calicut and he let the boys look at his wares whilst we waited. And I had a random conversation in French with a teacher from a nearby Alliance Française.

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We had naively thought getting the train would be straightforward. We anticipated it being busy and prepped the kids. However, when the train pulled into the station it was longer than everyone had expected and we were therefore stood in the wrong place. By the time we had rushed down the platform the train was pulling out and I had my second sense of humour breakdown of the day. We said goodbye to Ansar who had also failed to get on the train and headed back to the bus stop.

We fought our way onto a packed bus and headed back to Calicut. Where we blew the budget by checking into a nice hotel and chalked the eventful day up to experience as we went in search of a much needed beer.

We saw Mysore

‘If you haven’t been to Mysore, you haven’t seen South India’, so says the Lonely Planet. If rather conceited, it is certainly no overstatement. With its glittering royal palace, bustling bazaars and relatively relaxed pace of life, Mysore was indeed well worth the twelve hour sleeper train journey from Hospet.

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We enjoyed our four night stay in a budget hotel just off Gandhi Square, from which we explored the city’s highlights including: Mysore Palace, a stunning and opulent royal residence of the former maharaja (rebuilt by a Brit in 1912 after the original building was gutted by fire in 1897); Chamundi Hill and the Sri Chamundeswari Temple, the Hindu temple that sits at the 1062m summit of the hill; and the obligatory trip to Mysore Zoo and the Museum of Natural History. Alas, we we didn’t get to visit the Sand Museum! Shame, I know.

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Our trip to Mysore was made all the more pleasurable by the arrival of our friends, who we’d first met in Goa a few weeks earlier. Bridie (4), her Mum and Aunty joined us for a few days and, whilst the children enjoyed playing Mr & Mrs Dolphin (it made sense to them at least), the grown ups were afforded some time for retail therapy at the Silk markets and Sam and I took up their generous offer to babysit and enjoyed our first Date Night since departing Brighton. We all enjoyed squeezing four adults and three children into various rickshaws to see the sights.

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Finally, this short post on Mysore wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the camera-shy yellow cows and, without question, the finest Indian breakfast I’ve ever eaten. The former, we were informed, was due to Makara Sankrati, the festival of harvest held a week prior to our visit. We only discovered their camera shy nature when Sam and Tomas were charged by Daisy, much to George’s and my amusement.

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Whilst the latter came about by a chance recommendation by a local gentlemen who pointed us in the general direction. After 15 minutes wandering the back allies of Mysore, we were soon tucking into wonderful Masala Dosa and Vada.

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Don’t worry be Hampi

As we approached Hampi we were greeted by an incredible landscape. Paddy fields and banana plantations interspersed with surreal giant boulders sitting on top of each other at improbable angles (I still have no idea how they came to be here and need to pick my Geologist Uncle’s brain).

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We’d heard a lot of positive things about Hampi but spent the first day feeling somewhat underwhelmed. Hampi Bazar is the kind of traveller enclave that offers respite from the onslaught of Mother India. However after a month of easy living on the beaches of South Goa we were over the same same but different chill-out vibe.

We had breakfast at the rooftop restaurant of our guest house and loved seeing all the beautiful birds including parakeets and kingfishers as we looked out on the river.

We had a wander round the nearby sites on our first day, giving us time to recover from the sleeper bus journey. We visited the Virupaksha Temple. With its troop of resident monkeys and Lakshmi the temple elephant this was lots of fun for the children.

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In the afternoon I had a spontaneous haircut looking out over the Tungabhadra river. It may not be the best style but it is definitely the best view I’ve ever had during a haircut.

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The next morning George and I wandered down to the ghats to catch Lakshmi the elephant have her morning bath. We were told she would be there about 8.30 but in fact arrived nearer 10. It was worth the wait. She seemed to really enjoy her bath and George loved feeding her bananas and having a smooch (blessing). I really enjoyed the one to one time with my boy as we shared bananas and chai and watched the world go by.

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We spent the rest of the afternoon touring the ruins in an Auto Rickshaw. This is when I fell in love with Hampi. Trying to imagine life in its hey day when it was a bustling commerce hub and home to 500,000 people. The boys had fun running around playing hide and seek and being explorers. George got a driving lesson from Sadiq our tuktuk driver.

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The sites in Hampi are spread over 36 square kilometers so it is easy to explore in relative solitude, unusual for India where tourist attractions are often overwhelming with the number of people. The grand elephant stables were a highlight for the boys. We stumbled on an art class at the Vittala Temple, it was really lovely to see all of their watercolour paintings of the impressive stone chariot.

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We had fun over the river in Anegundi. It shares the remarkable landscape and ruins of Hampi but remains a sleepy village. The boat across the river squeezes on motorbikes with the passengers and one wonders how it can possibly stay afloat.

We had a fab thali and the boys played with the cafe owner’s daughter. After lunch we explored the ruins of army barracks and elephant stables. I enjoyed seeing the contrast between these stables and the ornate ones across the river that housed the royal elephants and the boys enjoyed chasing lizards.

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It was great fun to be the only people around, scrambling over boulders, humming the Indiana Jones theme tune as we went. A couple of local boys tried to sell us baby birds but we declined, it wouldn’t be a very jolly life for them in our backpack!

The streets of Hampi Bazar are car free. There are rickshaws and the odd motorbike but the kids could play and make friends without us worrying they were going to get run over.

I’m happy to say that after a couple of days exploring the ruins we really enjoyed our time in Hampi. And would definitely recommend it as a great place to go with children.

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On being Intrepid

For me being intrepid meant being active, adventurous, outdoors and seeking the next thrill. Indeed, one of the main reasons for leaving the nine-to-five (more like seven-to-eight) was to take my family on an adventure around the world and broaden their, and my horizons. We wanted to leave the fish bowl and explore what’s outside. And, as is clear from our previous blog posts, we’ve clocked up many miles (and spent many pounds) actively being intrepid.

So, I must confess, sitting still on a beach in Goa and just being present in the moment was not really on my agenda. Sitting still does not come naturally to me, as some of you know.

Having been here for a few weeks, however, I’ve realised that being intrepid doesn’t always have to be huge, tiring strides up mountains or hours spent on expeditions. My two sons have shown me repeatedly that being intrepid can be as simple as learning to jump off rocks into the sea and swim back to shore again. Or taking off your armbands for the first time and wading into the sea alone and free.

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Or having the confidence to walk up to other children on the beach and then build such a bond that we enjoy their company for a few fun-filled precious days. They flourish and continue to stretch themselves in ways that I hadn’t anticipated before we arrived in Goa – and stood still – and it’s been beautiful to watch.

But as I watched my sons being themselves, being intrepid, I realised that something still wasn’t right. What was wrong, I wondered. Then, within a few days of our arrival, it struck me. It was Christmas Day, the sun was setting and I was watching my boys mess around in the waves. That was it; I was only watching them and not being and playing with them. It’s very difficult to admit, but sometimes being a dad is bloody hard and I don’t know what to do for the best. “Leave them be, they’re playing well on their own”, although sometimes that’s perfectly true and appropriate, it can easily become a default setting, a comfortable place with limited risk but filled with missed opportunities. There was only one thing for it. I dived in, joined the boys and I enjoyed the best Christmas Day of my life. The sunset wasn’t bad either!

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So as the boys are relishing being intrepid still, I’m enjoying learning from them and just being still. As one of my best friends said recently before we left; somethings are just more important than others. So perhaps putting less emphasis on being intrepid and more on being with the Johnsons is more important.

Happy New Year!

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And just like that Christmas is over

I haven’t missed all the Christmas hype at home in England. It begins sometime in October and builds momentum until the children are in complete frenzy come December 25th.

You could be forgiven for the big day passing you by entirely here in South Goa. There were some children on the beach trying to sell us their handmade cards (the snowmen seemed particularly incongruous). The boys helped decorate the tree at our guesthouse. There are a few detailed nativity scenes around complete with

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living grass and flowers. And a few restaurants even offered roast turkey dinners but that’s about it.

The boys slept until 7.45. A lay-in by any standard and completely unheard of on Christmas Day! (being woken around 5am by my niece running in to our room yelling “It’s Christmas!!” will remain one of my favourite festive memories).

As soon as his eyes were open Tomas asked “has Santa been?!” and after checking whether Rudolph had eaten the carrot we’d left out for him the boys had a jolly few minutes opening their stockings containing a couple of trinkets and some sweets.

They were delighted with their presents of Shreddies (for Tomas who has asked for them everyday since we left Brighton) and a snorkel (for George who wrote a beautiful letter requesting one upon our arrival in Goa). The usual chaos of mountains of gifts and tantrums over wanting more presents to open happily passed us by (mind you there were tears over both boys wanting the chameleon toy which went missing later that day sparing us from further dispute).

We did miss our family and friends and a paper hat would have been nice as we ate our seafood dinner (and did the quiz) with an old friend but we have all become accustomed to living with fewer possessions and I hope we remember the beauty of this Christmas without ‘stuff’.

Christmas Quiz

We have a family tradition (that started 7 years ago when Nick and I had our first Christmas together) – a Christmas quiz that we send to family all over the world. The idea being that whoever is with them for Christmas will join in round the table and then we get to speak with family members as they phone in the results.

Please find the quiz below – should you wish to join in. Answers below – no cheating! Let us know how you got on!

We wish you a wonderful day!

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By the way the winner sets the questions the following year so these are curtesy of my step dad Jim!

1) the Bing Crosby song White Christmas originally came from which 1942 film?

2) which year was the first Band Aid ‘do they know it’s Christmas’ song made?

3) who is Aladdin’s mum ? (Oh no it isn’t !)

4) the season before Easter is known as Lent….but what is the season before Christmas known as?

5) Boxing Day is also known as which Saints feast day? Is it
St Mark…St Nicholas or St Stephen?

6) who composed the music for the Nutcracker?

7) Christmas Island is the territory of which country?

8) What colour underwear do Mexicans wear on New Years Eve to bring good luck for the coming year?

9) What are traditionally the names of the Three Kings/Wise Men/Magi who brought gifts to the baby Jesus ? ….a point for each name and a bonus point if you know the ‘fourth kings name’ in literature.

10) in which country (the world’s seventh largest) is Christmas known as Bada Din or ‘Big Day’?

11) what year was the film ‘Zulu’ released?

12) Father Christmas’ home in the North Pole is in which Ocean?

13) St Nicholas’ birthplace is in which country?
Turkey, Germany or Russia

14) Nadolig Llawen is Merry Christmas in which Western European language?

15) which year was the first King’s Speech broadcast by radio?

16) In the 1946 film ‘It’s a wonderful life’ what is the name of George Bailey’s guardian angel?

17) What was the occupation of the inventor of the Christmas Cracker?
Butcher, Baker or Lawyer?

18) Viscum Album is the technical name for…. Mistletoe , Holly or Poinsettia ?

19) In the carol ‘ the twelve days of Christmas’ how many pipers were piping?
Bonus point to anyone who can sing the whole carol without looking up the words (performance must be videod )

20) The famous song ‘O Christmas Tree’ was originally sung in which language? (Bonus point for knowing which socialist song is set to the same tune).

Scroll down for answers…

……..

Answers…

1. Holiday Inn

2. 1984

3. Widow Twankey (oh yes it is!)

4. Advent

5. St Stephen

6. Tchaikovsky

7. Australia

8. Red

9. Melchior, Caspar, and Balthazar (One Point for each) And a bonus point for ‘Artaban’ the fourth king in Henry van Dyke’s book in 1895.

10. India……bonus point for actually being in India!

11. 1964……they had a ‘premiere’ showing earlier this year to mark the fiftieth anniversary.

12. The Arctic Ocean

13. Turkey

14. Danish …………Naaaaa Only joking..It’s Welsh…

15. 1932

16. Clarence

17. Baker

18. Mistletoe

19. Eleven

20. German (O Tannenbaum)…….and ‘the Red Flag’ is the socialist song for a last bonus.

North India

The final leg of our adventures in India was, for me, the most enjoyable. Whilst Rajasthan, with its well documented Golden Triangle route, was a feast for the senses (not necessarily a good thing, at times) we headed North, to the mountains, for the cleaner air, fewer crowds and Tibetan food.

This part of the trip had us awestruck at not just one, but two, spiritual homes; watch a grown man mummify himself in toilet paper before setting himself alight; gatecrash lunchtime at a school; take a night bus with a blow-up T-Rex; enjoy a full(ish) English breakfast in Kipling’s favourite resort, Shimla; and take a toy train (literally) to a rock garden (literally, also).

The first of the spiritual encounters came in Amritsar, the Punjabi capital and, more specifically, home of Sikhism’s holiest shrine, the Golden Temple.

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With heads covered and secured by knots (as well as with bribes of chocolate for keeping said heads covered throughout our visit) we respectfully bathed our feet and entered one of India’s most serene and humbling sights. Despite the many hundreds making pilgrimages, there were times you could almost hear a pin drop. We walked barefoot on the white marble walkway around the Amrit Sarovar (Pool of Nectar), from which Amritsar takes its name. The boys enjoying carp spotting en route.

The Golden Temple itself, floating at the end of a long causeway, adorned with flowers and animal motifs was a true highlight of our trip thus far. The whole complex had an air of spirituality and even the boys were calm.

Our second spiritual encounter came some days later with our chance meeting with His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama at Tsuglagkhang Complex, McLeod Ganj.

The more organised and prepared visitors – worshippers and tourists alike – had in advance researched HH dates in residence, arranged their security passes, made adequate arrangements for sitting on the cold, polished concrete floor for many hours and tuned in to FM92 for live translations of HH’s public teachings. This teaching was a three-day event hosted at the request of Korean Buddhists, who are otherwise unable for various reasons to see their spiritual leader in their home country.

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For us, however, it was an absolute fluke. Being, to put it simply, in the right place at the right time. Suffice to say, both Sam and I were highly excited at the prospect of hearing him teach and, ultimately, were not disappointed.

McLeod Ganj, provided three further treats during our short stay there. One evening we decided to see what was billed as a ‘cultural event, of dance and music’. In fairness, it was all three of those things; and more. His stage name was Lionman (derived, one might imagine, from his long mane) and when he wasn’t throwing himself bare-chested at the walls, electrocuting himself and jumping out of the windows, he was crawling all over the bemused crowd and, as mentioned above, demonstrating the flammable properties of tissue paper. Please don’t try this at home, kids!

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The next day, we thought it would be good for the children to see, well, other children. It was respite for us also. So we made a few subtle enquiries and were told of a local infants school, which coincidently was Lionman’s chosen venue the previous night.

Happily however the charred remains of Lionman’s hair and the tissue paper had been removed and, alas, little people were sitting on the floor enjoying noodles for lunch in the sunshine. We were then invited, by a teacher, to join them and for the proceeding two hours or more we played with the children and shared ‘Children’s Day’ with them – a day where the teachers did very little, whilst students were allowed a free rein to play! It was a win-win!

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Lastly, we headed to Bhagsunag Waterfall. A short trek, not surprisingly, upwards from our guest house and a welcome change from the thoroughfare of McLeod Ganj. We all enjoyed a cold paddle in the falls, whilst the Indian tourists looked on in horror as two fair skinned Brightonian boys stripped off to their pants and made the most of the cooling water.

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Our next destination was the hill town, Shimla, former capital of the British Raj during the hot summer months, now capital city of Eastern Himachal Pradesh and a seven-hour night bus ride south from Dharamsala.

Our journey was made all the less enjoyable by the addition of a blow-up T-Rex, which a fellow passenger (with the best will in the world) had kindly given to Tomas as a ‘cuddlie’ for the night. He eventually tired of it, as well as the days events, and fell asleep. The next morning, after a brief nap in our hotel, we enjoyed a stroll along the Mall, a horse ride for the boys, and a hearty English breakfast near Scandal Point (we never did find out what precisely was the scandal from which the place derived its name?).

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We had intended staying in Shimla for two days. Somewhere along the way however we miscalculated our time available – specifically we had managed to lose a day. Accordingly, we hotfooted it the next morning to the station to board a Toy train to Kalka, with a connection to Chandigarh. The train was, as the name suggests, a jolly experience with a scenic, winding decent from the mountains, passing 103 tunnels On the way (the boys lost count, or rather got bored counting them, after 7).

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The next day, we visited Chandigarh’s Nek Chand Rock Garden. A surreal sculpture garden, which is like something from Alice in Wonderland. A weird and wonderful place created by Nek Chang out of concrete and recycled junk, including broken bathroom sinks and bicycle frames! It was superb.

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In the afternoon, we boarded a dragon-shaped pedaloe and floated for an hour on another of Nek Chang’s creations, Suhna Lake. In short, we had a wonderful day in Chandigarh, playing in the garden and lake and thanks Steve Barnes for the recommendation! We loved it.

Lastly, it was back to the mayhem of Delhi to catch our flight to Nepal.

In sum, through luck rather than design, we saved the best of India until last and left the subcontinent (albeit, temporarily) on a high note.

Rajasthan Part 2 – Jodphur to Bikener (AKA The one about the camel safari)

The next leg of our Rajasthani tour took us from Udaipur to Jodphur. The winding mountain roads led us first to the oldest Jain temple in India at Ranakpur.

The buildings were beautiful and it was a good opportunity for the boys to run around looking for wildlife including a sunbathing lizard and the resident monkeys. Unfortunately our timing was poor and our visit coincided with prayer time so we were unable to see inside the temples.

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Later in the day we got caught up in a diversion as the main road to Jodphur was closed for a festival. A comedy of errors ensued that saw a tractor crash into a Rickshaw, and the car in front get stuck in the sand until the driver turfed all his passengers out to lighten the load.

Jodphur’s Mehrangarh fort was the definite highlight of our time in the blue city. The boys were tired and cranky but they soon got into the swing of things climbing over cannons and checking out the impressive weaponry on display. The fort also afforded us with stunning views over the city’s skyline.

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On the road to Jaisalmer we passed through sparse scrubland along the edge of the desert. As we sped through the rural landscape the boys pointed out the occasional herd of sheep or cattle and working camels pulling carts. Whilst N and I marvelled at women in beautiful coloured sarees and tractors all bearing improbably heavy loads.

Jaisalmer was welcomingly quiet after the noise and bustle of Jodphur. We visited the impressive sandstone fort and several beautiful Havelis but really we were just going through the motions to pass the time to our much anticipated camel safari.

As we headed to the meeting point we met charismatic Rhoza Khan, owner of our camel trek company. With his pukka Ray Bans and perfect teeth it was like he’d ridden his Royal Enfield motorbike off a movie set. Having admired his bike Rhoza invited N for a spin and they sped off down the road. We caught them up in the car and the boys took it in turns to go for a ride (whilst I had my heart in my mouth!).

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We eventually pulled up to the meeting point and were met by Amil, our camel man. After ensuring we had sufficient water we got onto our camels (named by the boys as Andy and Twinkle) and headed off towards the dunes.

As we made our way into the dunes we paused at a small village to procure a chicken for dinner. Much amusement ensued as several men and children chased the chicken around before it’s capture.

We plodded along taking in the scenery and as the movement of the camel took its toll on my undercarriage I hoped we weren’t going far.

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Happily we soon stopped to set up camp. And as the sun set the boys played together, sliding down sand dunes, finding sand beetles, and writing in the sand. Nick and I relaxed and enjoyed the happiness of our offspring.

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The moon rose and we sat around the campfire, drinking chai. Amil made a delicious dinner from said chicken which the boys witnessed being dispatched to the giant coop in the sky.

Rhoza brought his children out to the desert to meet us in his large swanky 4×4. Bearing biscuits and juice for the boys to fuel their sand dune adventures. With happy hearts we eventually drifted off to sleep under the stars.

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We woke early and watched sunrise over the Thar Desert. G made us all laugh by saying “We’re real explorers now, aren’t we Dad?!”. Amil made more chai and we packed up camp before Andy and Twinkle took us back to the roadside meeting point.

We spent the next day chilling at the hotel pool getting some much needed downtime. Then it was back on the road for quick overnight stop in Bikener and after yet another Rajasthani fort we hit the road for the long drive to Amritsar.

Rajasthan Part 1 – Delhi to Udaipur

Our second week saw us swap the capital of India for the chaotic capital of Rajasthan, Jaipur. With its colourful bazaars, Pink City and the marvellous Amber Fort, Jaipiur was certainly a feast for the eyes.

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Rajasthan, more generally, is regarded as the Land of the Kings as the much fabled realms of the Maharaja with their majestic forts and lavish palaces certainly left their mark on the State.

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The Children’s senses, on the other hand, we’re more enlightened by the sight of many rats scurrying around the place and the taste sensation of Bounce biscuits! Akin to chocolate custard creams, they’re the new must-have in their worldly adventures.

Afterwards, we set off to Ranthambhore National Park in search of Tigers. Alas, after a few hours of bouncing along on the back of a safari jeep, which were not doing any of our stomachs any good at all, we called it an afternoon and returned to our hostel without a single sighting.

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Later I learned that there are only around 38 tigers roaming a reserve of some 1334 sq km. The odds were firmly stacked against us. Over dinner we met a couple amateur wildlife photographers from Mumbai who had enjoyed a couple of close encounters with the elusive tigers. They said their first couple of trips were unsuccessful, leaving us with the feeling that it was indeed a numbers game depending on the number of rupees!

Next we headed to the pastel hued pilgrimage (hippy) town of Pushkar.
Our arrival, happily, coincided with the month of Karkita, which, to the uninitiated, is the eighth lunar month in the Hindu calendar (and one of the holiest) and is marked faithfully by the arrival of around 200,000 people from across India (and East Sussex) for the Pushkar Fair. A week long Indian style county fair. But instead of cows and sheep on show, camels and horses were this fair’s fodder. It was , to put it mildly, quite an experience.

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Pushkar lake is surrounded by temples and ghats where the pilgrims bathe. Add to the mix, many cafΓ©s that wouldn’t be out of place in Amsterdam and a wonderful street bazaar, this was a real highlight and a must-see for anyone thinking of travelling this state.

Last up, after a day on the road we arrived in what is purportedly the most romantic city in Rajasthan, Udaipur (or ‘You-da-poor’, as Tomas would say it innocently!). Famed for its lake vistas and labyrinthine palace and bazaars, Udaipur was indeed stunning.

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The flip side though was that any romance that one might have indulged in was rudely interrupted by near-death experiences of being ran over many times by the many hundreds of horn blowing (no romantic pun intended) motor cyclists zipping through the lanes in all directions.

Highlights & lowlights this week:

G: Bounce biscuits the TV commercial; bounce biscuits the real thing. He has at last cottoned on to charging people IR10.00 to have their photo with him. This translates to more bounce biscuits! On a less positive note, however, he’s realised that tracking and seeing tigers in the wild is actually quite difficult, time consuming and often uncomfortable and unrewarding. Hats off to the BBC Natural History department; and he learned that trapping his fingers in the door of a cable car is a most unpleasant experience.

T: riding an elephant and getting a new purple dress with elephants printed on it; followed closely by bounce biscuits! Lowlight, laundry days since both his purple skirt and new dress went off to be cleaned and he was left with shorts and t-shirt. What mean parents that boy has!

Mrs J: loving the sights and sounds of Rajasthan. Especially enjoyed the laid back vibe of Pushkar. The pace of travel isn’t working for me as think whole family (boys in particular) are struggling with lack of downtime.

Me: Dad dancing with the boys to MTV India at every opportunity; I’m loving the spicy food and the occasional cold Kingfisher! ok, the bounce biscuits are nice too; and discovering peaceful parks and play areas for the children to run around in. Lowlights, rescuing said children from said play area as there’s typically a gaping hole on the side and one of the boys has fallen through it it got stuck !

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