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ST ANTON 2018

This is the post excerpt.

SUNDAY 21st JANUARY

This is possibly the most eventful skiing trip since the beginning of time (since 1988).

Let’s start at the very beginning, a very good place to start – well we are in Austria 🇦🇹.

We did think we had spoken too soon when our trip from Gatwick on Sat 21st January 8.20 departure, was going so smoothly. We spent the night at the BLOC hotel. This is the modular hotel without any windows but has the advantage of being right in the airport.

The Gatwick gang consisted of Bev, Andrew, Jonathan, Joel (who arrived at 4 o clock in the morning), Mark and I.

A smooth check in followed by a stress free security check through to departures where we had an enjoyable wait to board our BA flight to Friedrichschafen. Brilliant!

We landed 10 minutes ahead of schedule and then……. we couldn’t leave the airport because the road into St Anton was shut so the VIP Ski staff were awaiting an update before getting us on the coach to set off to our destination. We kept ourselves amused for an hour or so and eventually we were on our way.

We were to have lunch at a service station where we would receive another update. 2.30 pm it was announced we would not be going to St Anton that night and would be going to Bludenz. Our travel company VIP had secured us accommodation at the hotel Bleu.

The stark looking exterior was not inviting but inside the rooms were clean, modern and functional and there was a lovely swimming pool and gym.

Dinner was provided and was basic but tasty.

MONDAY 22ND JANUARY

After a leisurely breakfast we were told we were being transferred to another hotel in a ski village called Brand.

What I haven’t mentioned is that Josh was flying in from Canada to join our happy throng. He had been unable to catch his connecting train from Zürich to Saint Anton because an avalanche had landed on the railway track. However what he did manage to achieve was nothing short of a miracle. Various phone calls had taken place to inform him of our whereabouts and he was able to get a train to the next village and then a connecting bus. His timing was impeccable. We were all sitting on the coach waiting to set off. The local bus pulled up and Josh alighted and strolled up the drive straight onto the coach ready to depart with all of us.

Next stop …. Brand. This was a little mountain top Austrian village and we were booked into a lovely hotel with access to skiing, swimming or relaxing. It was raining so the party was split. The boys wanted to ski despite the prospect of getting soaked to the skin.

There was a cosy fire alight in the bar and here are Joel and Josh trying to dry out a little after their afternoons skiing.

The less enthusiastic amongst us went for a walk around the village and just enjoyed the ambience of the surroundings. We most certainly didn’t take coffee on the patio.

It was here that I discovered I had lost my I Pad and Kindle. My last recollection of them was the previous evening when I hid them in between my clothes in the suitcase before going for dinner. After much frantic searching I couldn’t find them anywhere so we reported it to our accompanying VIP ski staff. They call that the previous hotel and the coach company but with no joy.

We were still not a complete party because Robin, Annie and Geoff had flown into Innsbruck and had been stuck there also unable to get to St Anton. When I say stuck, they had actually had a really nice time. Dan had booked them a night in a hotel and they had found somewhere nice to eat on the first evening. The next day they spent exploring the old town of Innsbruck. It was their intention to try and join us in Brand today once we know whether that was where we were staying for the night.

We were all finally reunited that evening and enjoyed a lovely meal in the restaurant of the hotel. Annie and Geoff had the penthouse and were very happy.

The next update on our journey to St Anton was to be the following morning.

TUESDAY 23RD JANUARY

Today the route to St Anton was accessible. Rather than getting caught up in the traffic heading into the resort our company decided to give us a day skiing in Brand and head off at 3.00pm. This was the right decision and we sailed into Hotel Montjola at about 5 o’clock. This was our 3rd visit to the hotel so everything was pleasantly familiar, starting with the afternoon tea awaiting us.

Our gang took over the lower floor and Mark and I were in room 101, much to our amusement.

We had a nice view towards Rendell mountain. The avalanche barriers are usually the finale off piste experience for the Rowland gang. This year was no different, but today was far from our finale.

Afternoon tea was followed in quick succession by dinner and it was the usual high standard.

WEDNESDAY 24TH JANUARY

The boys were hot to trot and met Dan at 9.00am to set off on their adventures. Robin was in their gang, Bev and Andrew planned on walking and that left Annie, Geoff, Mark and I having a leisurely breakfast and planning to ski together. The sun was shining and our first task was to collect our skis from Miet Ski in Pettneu.

We all know that Mark likes to bag a bargain and this ski hire is a fraction of the price charged in St Anton. VIP ski transported us down to collect them. The shop is right opposite the church so is really easy to find.

Fully equipped we update our Golden Moments card which is a really good system for part time, fair weather skiers like us. The half day skiing starts at 11.00am which is great for us and the card is charged on a daily basis as you go through the barrier so there is no need to buy a daily lift pass.

Up the Rendell lift to enjoy the sunshine and the fresh snow.  Everything was going tremendously and we stopped for a lunchtime bevvy, taking in the views. A couple more runs was the decision before we called it a day. That’s when it all went wrong!

We were slightly ahead and we saw that Annie or Geoff had fallen and they were taking longer than normal to get going. A phone called established that Annie had fallen and appeared to be badly injured. By the time we had ridden the chair and back down the piste the ‘blood wagon’ had already arrived. Further more the helicopter was on its way. Poor Annie looked in agony and she was already harnessed up ready for the helicopter.  It seemed ages before it arrived and it sent snow whirling and nearly blew us over. This was nothing compared to the thrill of the ride for Annie.

She was swept across the mountains dangling from a rope and sandwiched between two paramedics. Despite her pain, Annie reported later that the ride was absolutely thrilling and exhilarating. She was dropped into the the doctor’s surgery and then referred to the hospital. Meanwhile, having seen Geoff down the mountain we left him to go to the police station to report the theft of my I Pad and Kindle. This was an ordeal. Not of the Annie kind, more of the interrogative kind. It is one query at a time dealt with by a young and very stern policeman. He clearly thought I had lost my belongings rather than having had them stolen. He was of course, correct but we didn’t know that at the time.

Annie arrived home later that evening to join us for dinner and she was clearly as high as a kite on the morphine she had been given for the pain.

India 2020

Our itinerary

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Bengaluru – Mysore – Ooty – Wayanad – Kochi – Allepey – Kovalam

950km  in our trusty bus plus a trip on the backwaters of Kerala.

DAY 01 | DEPART BIRMINGHAM Via DUBAI to BENGALURU

TUE 18th – WED 19th FEB

Depart 13.30

Arrive 11.30 local time

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Hotel Radisson Blu Atria had the typical welcome of security and welcome drink (very green). Our room was ready by noon a couple of hours ahead of check in. We were very grateful and dived straight into bed for a 4 hour refreshing nap.

We bathed and ventured out to find the bank. The pavement was intermittent but not too bad and there was even a footbridge to cross one road!

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We strolled through Freedom Park, found the ATM, headed back, had dinner and hit the sack.

Freedom Park is home of the Jail Museum and now plays host to peaceful demonstrations. On this occasion crowds were protesting against the Citizens Act Amendment. This 2019 Bill seeks to make illegal migrants who are Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan, eligible for citizenship. Citizenship seems to be a world wide conundrum in these current times. Although little did we know what greater conundrum was about to hit the world in the shape of a virus.

THURS 20TH FEBRUARY – IN BENGALURU

Population 10 million!!

Popularly known as the “Silicon Valley of India” being the major IT hub, Bengaluru also enjoys the title of the “Garden City” due to the presence of many public parks.

Bangaloru has had the fastest growing population in recent years due to the employment opportunities and the development is evident with the number of buildings, cars and feeling of prosperity compared to say Delhi (our only other big city experience).

Places we visited:

ISCON Temple (an interesting synchronisation of spirituality with modern technology)

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In the temple we had an opportunity to sit with the worshippers and contemplate the occasion and then to partake of a ritual bowl of the vegetable curry provided for every visitor. The Krishna organisation provides millions of free meals for children every day worldwide in their temples.

Next stop was the botanical garden with its take on Crystal Palace built for the visit of the Prince of Wales (Edward VII) to India in 1875.

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Vidhana Soudha (Karnataka State Legislature). This magnificent building was built to replace and opposite the original built by the British. Anything you can build we can build bigger!

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The red (British) building pictured below and the ubiquitous tuk tuk posing in front.

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 FRI 21ST FEBRUARY

We drove to Mysuru, which is 150 km (approximately three hours) from Bengaluru. Formerly known as Mysore, Mysuru owes its popularity to its splendid royal heritage and awe-inspiring monuments and buildings. En route, we visited Srirangapatna which is located at a short distance from Mysuru. Here we visited Daria Daulat Bagh (Summer Palace of Tipu Sultan),

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Tipu Sultan Gumbaz (Mausoleum of Tipu Sultan),

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and Srirangapatna Fort where Tipu kept 6 tigers and had a throne shaped like a tiger. All that is left of the fort are the ruins.

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So who was Tipu Sultan? He was famously know as the Tiger of Mysore due to his love of all things tiger. He was a Muslim ruler in a majority Hindu country and he was considered a freedom fighter by his countrymen as he opposed the East India’s conquest of Southern India.

In the evening we visited Mysore Palace to capture the Palace outlined with 20000 bulbs switched on at 19.00. AMAZING.

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DAY 04 | MYSURU SIGHTSEEING

SAT 22nd FEBRUARY

Mark’s birthday so before we set off for our day’s adventures I tried to arrange for a birthday cake to be in our room on our return. This proved to be quite trying as the receptionist wanted to know exactly what time we would arrive back. I didn’t know and I needed to rush off to join the gang so felt sure there would be no result. I was wrong. There was a piece of cake sitting in our room when we got back which went down well with a nice cup of tea.

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First stop was Ranganathittu Bird Sanctuary which lies beautifully on the banks of River Cauvery covering over 40 acres of land. The trip was around a lake in a rowing boat. 12 of us and one man rowing! It was a real treat if not quite noisy and a bit smelly. Hundreds of birds feeding chicks creates a cacophony of sound and a lot of guano. We spotted Painted storks, Grey Pelicans and Open Beaked Herons feeding their chicks in their enormous nests.

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Next stop was the Chamundeshwari Temple is a Hindu temple located on the top of Chamundi Hills about 13 km from the palace city of Mysore in the state of Karnataka in India. The temple was named after Chamundeshwari or Durga, the fierce form of Shakti (the Great Divine Mother), a deity held in reverence for centuries by the Mysore Maharajas.

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After lunch we returned to visit Mysore Palace by day described as a striking example of the supreme archaeological finesse, including the Elephant Gate and Doll’s Pavillion. It blends the architectural style of Hindu, Mughal, Rajput and Gothic style and is one of the finest palaces in the City.

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The interior of the palace was very crowded due to it being a festive holiday but we managed to take in the splendour of its interior.

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So good of all these folk to turn up on Mark’s birthday.

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Our hotel was called the Country Inn and Suites and was out of town nearby to Infosys, a massive pharmaceutical company employing 10,000 workers in a Garden City type complex.

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Another piece of birthday cake was presented this evening. Yes, one piece, which Mark managed to share out amongst the group. A crumb each! After dinner the staff seemed determined to involve some of us in an activity and reluctantly we joined in. We were rather glad that we did as it turned out to be an hilarious party game (just right for the occasion) whereby you stand with a partner on a sheet of newspaper and dance until the music stops. Each time the music stops the piece of paper has to be folded in half, in half again and so on and you are disqualified if either of you step of off the paper. Hilarious as the dance moves get more and more interesting. The staff members won and no surprise as they had about Size 2 feet.

DAY 05 | MYSORE – OOTY [ENROUTE VISIT BANDIPUR AND MUDUMALAI]

SUNDAY 23rd FEB

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We continued our drive towards Ooty with an en route visit to Mudumalai National Park. It is declared as tiger reserve and is home to several endangered and vulnerable species including Indian elephant, Bengal tiger, gaur and Indian leopard. We saw elephants, and mainly deer!

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After enjoying the very bumpy Jeep Safari at Mudumalai Wildlife sanctuary we continued our drive to Ooty.  Ooty, also known as Udhagamandalam, is a hill station in the state of Tamil Nadu, in southern India. On the slopes of nearby Elk Hill, the Rose Garden is home to over 2,000 varieties of roses and our hotel was just up the road.

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Our hotel was the Fortune Sullivan and had lovely views over the town and came with a full colonial type decor plus a billiard room, a bar  and pre dinner tinkling music to escort us into the dining room.

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MON 24th FEB

After breakfast, we set off for the sightseeing of Ooty covering the hill station towns of Lovedale and Coonoor.

The great mountain ranges of the Western and Eastern Ghats sweep down to form a “V” about 400 km from the southern tip of India. It is here in the Nilgiris Mountains where the states of Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka meet. The rolling, forested Nilgiri Hills were once the favoured summer escape for the colonial British living on the southern plains of India.

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We visited to the Ooty Botanical gardens. This hill station garden is at an altitude of 2,250m, resulting in an interesting mix of plants in the 55 acre gently sloping site with conservatories, an Italian garden and rose garden.

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We so often felt like celebrities being followed by the paparazzi and in the Botanical Gardens this was at its peak. This little Indian lady kept hugging me and stroking me and took endless photographs with her very up to the minute phone.

We visited Coonoor, known for the production of Nilgiri tea, and is one of three misty Nilgiri hill stations. It sits approximately 1850m above sea level and is connected to Ooty and Mettupalayam by the joyful and ingenious Nilgiri Mountain Railway, inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage list. The surrounding region is beautifully carpeted in emerald tea plantations that are studded with tall trees and interspersed with waterfalls. Enjoy lunch and visit Sims park and Coonoor Tea plantations

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We had plenty of time before the train departed so we went for a stroll around the market and managed to buy two sari lengths for £1 each. Bargain! Even after our shopping we had plenty of time so we took the opportunity to have a look around the station yard and take a few snaps.

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I loved this sign

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The mountain railway is a treasured and fabled charm of the Nilgiris since 1899. The Nilgiri railway system is unique as it is the steepest in Asia and has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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The stretch from Mettupalyam to Coonoor is extremely attractive as it weaves its way through tunnels and forests, narrow valleys, over bridges and gushing streams, as you gain height mists descend from the mountain peaks to welcome you.

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We shared our carriage with a couple celebrating their 25th Wedding Anniversary and they were celebrating aboard the train. A treat from their daughter.

DAY 07 | OOTY – VYTHIRI

After breakfast, we proceed to Vythiri; a small town and tourist destination in Wayanad. We will continue to enjoy visiting Pookot Lake and Jain Tree.

The lake itself was nothing special but it did show us that people the world over love a park to visit, and to walk around and an opportunity to go boating.

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“Wayanad is home to exotic legends, ancient ruins, mysterious mountain caves, aborigine tribes, hidden treasures, tree houses, jungle trails and exotic wild life, Kerala’s Wayanad district is the perfect setting for a hundred great adventures.”…

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The greatest adventure was the jeep ride to get us up to the accommodation. We had to vacate the bus and literally squeeze into jeeps that were probably the most uncomfortable vehicles EVER. Paul had sat on his undercarriage and was so squashed in he couldn’t rearrange himself. Mark’s water bottle leapt out of his back pack and landed on the track and after much shouting above the noise of the engine the driver stopped and retrieved it for him. Meanwhile, some vehicles were coming down the track so our convoy had to back up to let them past and poor Patrick nearly had a heart attack when his jeep was hanging back end of the side of the hill. He was sitting in the back end!

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We did arrive safe and sound and couldn’t wait for the arrival of the taxi delivering the beer. This hotel was ‘dry’ so we had arranged for our own delivery of alcohol which was much needed by this point.

DAY 08 | WAYANAD

WEDS 26th FEB

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The itinerary said ‘Today is kept leisurely for you to rest and relax or you may choose to enjoy resort’s in house activities nature walk with naturalist, hike nearby hillocks and so on.’

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The reality was indeed a hike up the hillside spotting plants and birds and the most exciting sighting was ….elephant poo! We were walking in the footsteps of elephants. No sightings but they had definitely been there.

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Our hotel was set up in the forest and was suitably accompanied by bird song, monkey calls and a lush outlook which made sitting on the balcony and absolute delight. We never got to see the elephants drinking at the riverside but on our late night stroll to check them out we came across a beautiful display of fireflies dancing amongst the trees.

THURSDAY 27TH FEBRUARY

Today was a long drive to Cochin but I rather enjoy watching the world go by past the window and trying to capture a bit of the local life. The local scrapyard caught my imagination.

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I always love a bit of window shopping.

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Today I had a change from a rice dish for lunch and had a rather delicious coconut milkshake.

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Cochin was a strategically placed port and when the Portuguese sailed in at the start of the 16C they took over the kingdom of Kochi and then in 1663 the Dutch overthrew the Poruguese and then in 1814 the Anglo Dutch Treaty handed it over to the British who ruled until Independence of India in 1947.
One remaining legacy of the the British rule is Willingdon Island built by Robert Bristow (named after the Viceroy of India at that time) and designed to modernise the port. It is still used as a military base today. We crossed Venduruthy Bridge to our hotel situated on the island and here I had my first swim of the holiday!

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Mumbai has Bollywood and Kochi has Mollywood which is their film making industry thus called because of the native language of Malayalam. This Mollywood superstar reminded me of George Michael.

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DAY 10 | IN COCHIN

Today’s plan was some sightseeing in Cochin.

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We visited the Jewish Synagogue in the heart of Jew Town and the cantilevered Chinese fishing nets. We had a turn at hauling up the massive net, which was a team effort and in the main seemed to catch a load of rubbish. Yes, literally rubbish which should have been taken out and kept for disposal. Oh no, it was just lowered back into the ocean! Our team did make a small catch….

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St. Francis Church where Vasco da Gama was originally buried before being taken back to his native Portugal. Don’t you love the tasteful signage?

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The church was also complete with a full set of Punkahs and not a Wallah in sight (for those of you who remember the sitcom It Ain’t Half Hot Mum).

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We also visited the local laundry which made us eternally grateful for our washing machines

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Electric steam irons rather then irons powered by glowing charcoal made from coconut shells. Most of us could only just about lift the iron let alone use it to iron the weekly wash.

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The washing lines were made from twisted coir rope and the washing was twisted between the two strands eliminating the need for pegs. There was a definite knack to even the simplest task of hanging out your smalls.

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In the evening proceed to witness the Kathakali Dance Performance.

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Kathakali literally meaning “story dance” is the pantomimic dance drama, the dancing and the acting being blended together into an inseparable form. It is a combination of facial expressions and body movements, which brings out the thought and emotion of the character. Kathakali is predominantly a male art and the dancing is mostly of the masculine type. The position taken by the actor is angular. He never stands erect while acting, his knees being spread out and his legs forming a rhombus, his hands bent at the elbow and his palms on his hips. The outer feet are never flat on the ground and still the actor maintains a perfect balance. The female character is lasya which is gentle and grateful. This is particularly evident in love scenes.

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We arrived in time to watch the dancers applying their makeup and then fortunately we were given an explanation of the meaning of the dance moves and a précis of the story we were going to watch. I say fortunately because if that had not have been on offer we would have been a tad confused to say the least 😂

 

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We started the day with a visit to the Dutch Palace, which has some of India’s most beautiful murals.

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Why a Dutch Palace?

1503 The Kingdom of Kochi is taken over by the Portuguese.
1663 The Dutch overthrow the Portuguese rule.
1814 Anglo Dutch Treaty officially passes the city to the United Kingdom of Britain.
1947 India gains independence.

Then we were on our way to Alleppey (57 Kms 02 Hrs approx.) to board our houseboat.

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Climb aboard the traditional kettuvallams (riceboats) converted into houseboats with bedrooms and attached toilets.

Originally these boats were used as ferries to carry rice. Cruise through the backwaters of Kerala. The houseboat is one of the 50 “must do” things as described by the National Geographic Traveller magazine. The backwater cruise through the narrow canals that criss-cross a typical Kerala Village, rich with green paddy fields and verdant coconut trees and is a thrilling experience. The boat cruise takes you to small islets tucked away amidst those waters where you get glimpses of the village at the best of its serenity and innocence.

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Lunch and dinner was served on board, which was lots of food! A full lunch plus an afternoon snack of banana fritters and then a full evening meal. As an aside our evening meal was enhanced by the prawns we felt obliged to buy when we stopped along the waters edge.

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They were very big juicy prawns and at a couple of quid each they certainly were not Indian prices. They were definitely tourist prices.

DAY 12 | ALLEPPEY – KOVALAM

Today morning, after breakfast we left the houseboat and travelled to Kovalam (175 kms / 4 Hrs).

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Enroute to Kovalam we went boating on Poover lake.

Kovalam is a beach resort on the Arabian Sea and is a series of sandy bays separated by rocky promontories and now a busy tourist town.

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It was on our last chapter that Mark’s stomach decided to play up. He spent the afternoon resting up in bed and I explored a bit, read on the balcony and generally chilled out.

DAY 13 | IN KOVALAM

 

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I had my complimentary Ayurvedic massage. Very oily but very thorough with every nook and cranny being massaged.

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I also managed a swim.

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I ended my activities for the day with a yoga class along with 3 Russian ladies, one of whom was quite large and grunty and lacking in English, so her companions were her translators at certain times during the class. Luckily the instructor was very good and I loved his way of saying “Innnnhale and Eggshale” (Inhale and Exhale :))

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That evening we were lucky to glimpse a Festival with fireworks and a procession passing in front of our hotel.

We had to be ready to depart at 3.00am! Our packing was accompanied by the sound of torrential rain. It was still raining as we climbed on our taxi and bid Kovalam goodbye. The transfer journey was about 20 minutes and the rain had stopped by the time we unloaded and began our journey home.

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We had said our goodbyes to our lovely travelling companions. We had opted to spend a day less on the beach, some had chosen to spend extra days there and others were travelling onto Northern India and Nepal. We arrived home on the 4th March 2020 and by the 23rd March we were in lockdown against Coronavirus (Covid19). Who knows when we will travel like this again, don’t know where, don’t know when but we trust it will be some sunny day.

India 2018

The Golden Triangle

Travelled and enjoyed by many including us 5th-18th February.

LUMLE Travel

Exchange rate £1 = 90 rupees

Monday 5th February

Depart London Heathrow to Delhi on Virgin. Depart 21.50 and arrive Delhi at 10.25am local time (+5.5hrs)

Tuesday 6th February

Lackshay greeted us at the airport and swiftly escorted us via the ATM to the car.

The three things required for driving in Delhi are

1. A good horn

2. Good side mirrors

3. Good luck

It soon became clear that this information was correct. With a population of 20 million, Delhi is inevitably very very busy.

Our driver was very adept at weaving his way through the traffic and over and around the road markings. Another thing that was pointed out to us is that the lane markings are purely for decoration. We arrived in one piece at the Hotel Suraya where we were presented with our charadu bracelet and our itinerary and we were left to settle into our room.

After a cuppa and a cat nap we ventured out into the real world and immediately found ourselves caught up in a wedding celebration. The Uncle of the groom was very keen to introduce us to his family and quite a few wanted their pictures taken with us. Weird but true!

We left the groom to go and find his bride whilst we went to explore the market and the shops. We found an eclectic selection of shops, restaurants and stalls with a mixture of clientele from well dressed to folks with no shoes and the child who wouldn’t let go of Marks sleeve whilst begging for money.

A supermarket was what we wanted and we eventually found a tardis of a shop with about 3 staff per customer and stocking everything you could want. We settled on naan bread and hummus with olives washed down with Kingfisher beer.

We watched the sun go down and collapsed into bed.

Wednesday 7th February

City tour of Delhi which is divided into 2 parts – Old and New Delhi.

The British shifted their capital from Calcutta to Delhi in 1911 and Edward Lutyens drew up plans for a new city of wide boulevards and stately administrative buildings to accommodate the colonial government – New Delhi was born.

We started the tour in Old Delhi starting at the Jama Masjid, India’s largest mosque built by Shah Jahan (1644-1658). It can hold 25,000 worshippers.

The Red Fort was also built by Shah Johan (1638-1648). Photo stop and a brief introduction to say that the Emperor that built it never lived in it and the British used its courtyards to house military barracks. The Lahore Gate, the main entrance is used by the Prime Minister to make an annual speech on Independence Day.

We took a hair raising rickshaw ride along Chandni Chowk which is the main market streets selling everything!

Next stop was the Rajghat, the cremation place of Mahatma Ghandi. The site is on the banks of the Yamuna River (a tributary of the Ganges) and his ashes were scattered on the Ganges.

Crossing back into New Delhi we drove past the Viceroys House and the Parliament of India via the India Gate.

Then onto the Humayun’s Tomb, which is thought to have inspired the Taj Mahal built from red sandstone and marble and was constructed by his wife in the mid 16C.

We stopped by the Lotus Temple (which we had seen from our bedroom window). The temple belongs to the Bahai faith and is a site for contemplation rather than worship.

Our last stop was the magnificent Qutub Minar which is the home of the tallest minaret in the world (allegedly). Built in 1193 to proclaim supremacy of the Muslim rule over Hindu.

A pretty exhausting day which ended with a bath and picnic and setting the alarm for 4.20am!!!!

THURSDAY 8th FEBRUARY

See above! In a daze we collected our breakfast picnic and climbed aboard the bus to take us to Delhi station. One advantage of being on the road at this time of the morning was slightly less traffic. Not quieter because the incessant horns were still going but within half an hour we were dropped of on another world.

The station (platform pictured above) and its surrounds were humming with activity and we were only thankful that we were escorted to the platform to board the train Coach C4.

All aboard the Shatabdi express.

Everything for the journey was loaded onto the train as soon as it arrived onto the station. The train departed on time much to our amazement. It was all very civilised and our 7 hour journey (7 hours to travel 275 miles) included a large bottle of water each, tea and biscuits, followed by a cooked breakfast of vegetable fritters with a few fries and peas, a carton of juice and finally some of the traditional mouth freshening sweets.

That was a long time to spend on a train. In fact it was about as long as our flight to get to India!! However the seats were reasonably comfortable and we slept, read and watched the people and the scenery. When we arrived in Ajmer at the end of the line and were instantly launched back into the mayhem of the Indian roads. We knew we were to be met by the same driver as yesterday but didn’t expect him to be standing right where our coach pulled in. Once we recognised him we were soon on our way to Pushkar an 11km drive over Snake Mountain.

Our accommodation was right out of town and a pleasant spot to relax for the afternoon in the sunshine (or shade for Mark)

The sky looks weird in this picture but it was a lovely afternoon and I sat on the balcony reading watching a couple of people hopping about in the pool because the water was so cold!

We dined in the hotel restaurant – biryani, daal and roti washed down with Kingfisher beer.

FRIDAY 9TH FEBRUARY

Today was the village of Pushkar, the home of one of India’s most sacred lakes.

I haven’t introduced our travelling companions Gladys, known as Glad, and Terence, known as Terry.

We were met by our guide for the day who accompanied us through the market explaining that this was a relaxed place to shop because the owners of the stalls and shops do not hassle browsers. It was true and we ambled along happily checking out a few things and eventually buying our souvenir of an modern take on Ganesh i.e an elephant, carved from black stone.

The Hindu temple Jagatpita Brahma Mandir attracts pilgrims all year round as the only remaining temple to Brahma.

We deposited our shoes at the bottom of the steps and ascended clutching our rose petals to offer to the monks. At the top of the steps we had to make a photo stop

Despite the sign Mr Harmer was welcome and we followed the rituals of all the pilgrims. Touch the steps (shows humility by bowing down), ring the bell to announce your arrival, offer your flowers so by giving you will receive (karma), walk clockwise around the figure of the god so that his power reaches you from all around and finally allow 2 minutes for contemplation.

Are you sitting comfortably then I will begin. The story of Brahma and Pushkar starts with Brahma dropping a lotus flower and where the flower landed the lake was created. Brahma was to bless the lake and this had to be done at a certain time according to the moon and the season. His wife was in a palace atop the mountain overlooking the lake and she was spending much time preparing herself to look beautiful for the ceremony. She took so long but by the time she arrived at the lake Brahma had taken his second wife to be by his side. His first wife was so aggrieved that she placed three curses upon her husband. The first curse said that his Temple in Pushkar would be his one and only temple. The second curse said that this one and only temple could not be used to worship Brahma. The third curse said that the only place for worshipping Brahma would be the lake. Here we are having completed our pilgrimage to the lake and having asked Brahma to bless our family all for the princely sum of a fiver each. We sat on the edge of the lake with our petals to offer to Brahma and recited the blessings after our priest. He then asked each of us in turn how much we were going to offer. The donations go to keep up the temples around the lake and to feed the poor. I was asked first and so offered £5 and Mark nearly choked but then also offered £5. Meanwhile Terry was whispering to Glad “Have we got £10?” , because they were running short of cash and hadn’t been able to get the ATM to give them any money. We hoped our families were blessed and we hope some folks get fed. Who knows, but we had a giggle about the whole affair. We had a great coffee and cake in a local cafe that was geared up to provide European coffeee to drink with homemade cakes. I had a rose lava cake and Mark had an apple crumble cake.The finale to the day for Terry and Glad was a ride back to the hotel on a camel and cart. We took a ride back in the bus and bumped into Sue who was also on a Lumle tour with her husband Roger. Same tour as us minus Ranthambore. We all got together for a chat after dinner at the hotel that night to discover that Roger and Terry knew one another. They had been to the same university studying English. Small world! Before dinner one of the hotel staff took us to see a small working farm behind the hotel. He took us into the home of one of the farm workers that could only be described as very basic. The whole idea of the invite was to offer money. We then wandered through to the fields growing peas and marigolds and saw the cow with her calf and a few goats plus the well supplying water to the farm and house. Glad was tickled by the hotel staff member wanting to be in our pictures. He also wants me to send him a copy. A happy and spiritual day.

SATURDAY 10TH FEBRUARY

Leisurely breakfast and departure from Pukshar at 10.00 to drive 145kms to Jaipur.

The roads were amazingly easy going despite the normal cows, bikes and tuk tuks. Lots more lorries but there was room for everybody and after a coffee stop we arrived in Jaipur for 2.00 pm.

Our lovely hotel ITC Rajputana gave us a very warm welcome and our room was more than acceptable. The hotel is a tribute to traditional Rajputana architecture- the Haveli.

After a nice cup of tea we decided to venture out armed with our map.

Oh my word! Walking the roads is a completely different scenario to being driven. I guess that’s stating the obvious. The speed might be similarish but the danger levels are definitely higher. There are few if any pavements and people stroll precariously along the roadside. Then we needed to cross the road. I nearly had a fit of the screaming abdabs. The traffic was just a constant stream of moving machines and waiting for a gap to cross required patience and a belief that this wasn’t a mission impossible.

We eventually made it to the restaurant we had scoped out.

We were able to order the Thali, even though it said served between 8.00-10.00pm and it was only 5.30.

We ate everything up and were full to the brim and although to walk it off would have been good there was no way it was going to happen. We fought off the pesky man and climbed aboard a tuk tuk of a steady older gentleman who sat waiting for business rather than touting for it. So we arrived back at the hotel in one piece and in time to see the dance show down by the pool.

Bath, relax and bedtime.

SUNDAY 11TH FEBRUARY

Today was Jaipur, the Pink City. Why pink? The king chose this colour as it represents warmth and hospitality in preparation for a visit from Prince Albert in 1876. It stayed that colour because the Queen loved it so much and persuaded the king to pass a law that every building should be maintained in the terracotta pink. This law still stands today.

We set off at 8.30 with our 2nd Caste guide aboard the sharabang and the first stop Palace of Winds 1799 built by 4th King of Jaipur for the ladies to watch the activities of the city below.

The Amber Fort was next and we were dropped of st the bottom of the hill and transported to the top by jeep.

Some folks arrived by elephant.

Our guide didn’t believe in the use of elephants saying that they have been introduced from S India and they are not comfortable on the cobbled stones and their existence is causing problems for the farmers because they are protected and thus increasing in number and causing havoc with the sugar cane crops.

The palace is called Amber Palace not because of the colour but because it sits above the village of Amer (English is Amber).

The Fort is divided into 4 main parts

The main courtyard or parade ground where the army could display their war booty and the women could watch from behind screens (like the Palace of Winds)

The second courtyard contains the Hall of Public Audience

The marahajah’s apartments are located around the third courtyard. The famous hall of mirrors is located here also known as the Hall of Victory.

The women’s quarters surround the fourth courtyard.

Here the King could visit one of his 12 wives or his many concubines.

An amazing venue full of intricate carvings and beautiful frescoes and steeped in stories of bygone Kings.

Next stop not quite so historical and never an opportunity missed to sell to tourists at the jewellery workshop. It was quite interesting to see the variety of gems that are collected locally such as ruby, amethyst and lapis lazuli. The collection of jewellery was phenomenal. This retail opportunity was followed by lunch.

After lunch we were presented with another retail opportunity. This time it was carpets and fabrics. Then onto the Observatory built by the first king.

This was like no other observatory I’ve ever seen. It looked more like a modern sculpture park. The sun dial pictured above tells the time to within 30 seconds of accuracy. It certainly held out today.

We also found our zodiac signs. Scorpio for me (and Glad)

Piscies for Mark (and Terry)

The horoscopes are of major importance in the Hindu culture and is always the starting point for a marriage. No more random than Tinder I guess! 

Our last stop today was the City Palace built 1729 – 1732 by the ruler of Amer. Part of the palace now houses a museum. The museum houses a fantastic collection of costumes from the Kings and a collection of weapons and armour.

The palace of the current royal family overlooks the museum

The king was not in residence so the Queens flag flies in its place.

We admired the courtyard of dance and the Hall of Public Audience and the Hall of Private Audience. In the former are the two enormous silver pitchers (featured in the Guinness book of records) that carried water from the Ganges for the King when he visited England in 1901 for King Edward VII’s coronation.

MONDAY 13TH FEBRUARY

Today we are traveling to Ranthambhore in our trusty little bus.

It is a reasonably comfortable jalopy with room to spread out and air con that works once our driver has tweaked the fuse.

It was the usual whacky races leaving Jaipur and once we were on the toll road things were a little calmer.

Although we had said our goodbyes to Sue and Roger this morning (they were off to Agra) we kept seeing them in their car along the way. A final wave as we turned off for Ranthambhore and here the road deteriorated somewhat. There seems to be a new road under construction and a good job too. The existing one was narrow and uneven and full of potholes. Was this a wacky race diversion. There was no sign of Dick Dastardly and Mutley however.

It was great watching the local life out of the window. There were the normal amounts of cattle crossing the road. We didn’t like the dead dog on the verge. Amazingly despite the traffic and the unorthodox style of driving we have only seen 2 casualties on our travels. We saw an injured cow as we left Pushkar and then the dog today.

As we passed through villages we saw the usual hairdressing shops

Always busy. Hair and beards are very important to the men folk it would seem.

I have never seen so many shops selling cement but there are everywhere.

The local farms featured these circular buildings- home or storage? It was possible to see the women at work in the fields and in the home and their washing made a colourful addition to the fences and the farmyards with the brightly coloured saris hung out to dry.

We had a coffee and loo break where the shop staff were ever hopeful of selling us something from the shop. We bought a packet of biscuits which didn’t impress them much.

Our travels continued and we passed a crowd gathered to watch a wrestling match (we think). Mud wrestling is popular sport in Rajasthan.

We saw overloaded lorries and a camel train which went through the toll booth ahead of us and it was free of charge!

As we approached Ranthambore the traffic started to increase again and there was a great presence of jeeps and safari looking vehicles. We reached our hotel about 3.00 pm

We were given the lowdown on our safari for tomorrow morning and we booked another ride for the afternoon.

Relaxing afternoon and evening.

TUESDAY 13TH FEBRUARY

6.30 am start with tea and biscuits served in reception whilst we awaited the arrival of our jeep.

Wrapped up warm and Mark looking like a refugee we set off on a tiger search. We explored zone 6.

We spotted 2 tigers up in the hillside but you needed binoculars to see them so I cannot share our view through the lens. The Tigers are in this photo but you will not be able to see them.

We carried on through the park being bumped up and down and loving it. We saw lots of deery creatures

We arrived back at the hotel for 10.00ish and breakfast was being served and was very welcome. I was booked for an Indian Head Massage at 12.30 so after a short rest I pottered down to the ‘spa’. Not a spa as we would know it but a couple of treatment rooms with beds set up ready for clients. I sat on one of the beds and the therapist set to work on my head. I had oil applied and received a vigorous head scratching and my head wobbled about like a ping pong ball on a spring. It was very invigorating and then reverted to relaxing as the metal head scratcher was introduced. My temples were massaged and then the knots around my neck and shoulders. I looked terrible but felt great. I also smelt slightly strange as the oil had a smell that was a mixture of menthol and vegetable oil.

Our afternoon safari left at 2.30. The weather was a little warmer

We had an amazing drive this time in zone 7. The roads were steep and really bumpy and not far off a fairground ride! White knuckles appeared on the lady sitting next to me.

We all look very happy here and we were soon to be even happier. After taking in the views

and seeing some more ‘deery’ things

we eventually found the hidden treasure…….

Our guides had heard the warning call of a ‘deery thing’. We hung around and waited and waited, along with a few other trucks (also known as Gypsy trucks). Time was running out because the park gates close at 6.00pm the tension was rising. Then there she was. The tiger appeared from in the trees and the Gypsies surged forward. Those tiger feet kept moving and much to our delight rather than disappearing it carried on walking up the track so that we could all follow in a convoy.

What a finale but the excitement didn’t end there. We had about 5 minutes to exit the park otherwise the rangers would be fined. Foot to the floor and all of us bouncing around in the back, we made it through the gate with two minutes to spare. Ta dah.

WEDNESDAY 14TH FEBRUARY

Happy Valentines Day. ♥️

Chocolates and a card on my pillow and a Valentines wish on Marks. We had both remembered. 

A travelling day today as we left Ranthambhore for Agra. Glad was not feeling tip top which wasn’t ideal for a long travelling day. We knew we were in for at least at 6 hours driving. We settled down to enjoy the road back from Ranthambhore to the main Delhi-Agra road. It hadn’t improved since we had driven along it on Monday. The main difference was that we were a little earlier so we passed lots of children on their way to school.

Morning washing takes place at the water pumps. That is washing bodies, clothes, bikes- anything goes. I still wonder how they get their whites so white!

We saw brickworks with their chimneys smoking.

We passed a funeral procession.

We passed the normal variety of transport and particularly loved the trucks cushioned by their massive loads of wheat (we think)

At about 3.00 pm we picked up a guide and visited the Mughal city of Fatehpur Sikri.

This is a red sandstone city built by Emperor Akbar in 1568 to celebrate the birth of his son. Within the city are 4 palaces – the King’s place and one each for his wives. A Christian wife,

a Muslim wife

and a Hindu wife. He was a king of diplomacy so kept a foot (or a wife) in each camp. His Hindu wife was favoured as the mother of his son and heir. This was reflected in the size of her palace.

The city was the home to half a million people and covered an area of 9 square kilometres.

We finished our journey into Agra and saw much evidence of the towns connection with shoes. There were delivery bikes coming from all directions.

We checked into our massive and pleasant hotel and decided to take the easy option and eat in their restaurant and celebrate Valentines Day.

Dodgy table decoration but very good food.

THURSDAY 15TH FEBRUARY

We opted for the sunrise visit to the Taj Mahal so were picked up at 6.15am. The traffic was relatively calm and the queue to get into the site was relatively short. Good result. Security was quite strict as this place is sacred both from a spiritual and an income point of view. 40% of the 1.7 million people living in Agra rely on the Taj Mahal for their income. As it has come from all around the world and from all cultures and religions. We particularly liked the three monks who were clearly up with the times and the technology taking photos like everybody else with their iPads.

This was a truly breathtaking vision. Seeing is believing and it truly brought tears to my eyes. There was lots of posing for photographs but it is a very photogenic place.

Agra was once the capital of the Mughal empire.

The Taj Mahal was built by Shahjahan, the 5th Mughal king for his wife, Mumtaz Mahal. She died at the age of 38 giving birth to her 14th child. Building commenced in 1632-1653. Her 3 wishes had been that her husband never remarried, that he looked after the children and that he build her a mausoleum. He carried out all of her wishes and the sadness of her second wish was that their eldest son who was greedy for power and money ended up imprisoning his own father for his final years. Shahjahan died in 1666 and he was buried next to his wife.

The Taj Mahal is a vision of beauty from a distance and the marvel does not stop there. On closer inspection the inlaid carving in the marble is exquisite. The inner sanctuary containing the bodies of Sharjahan and his wife is dimly lit by one lamp adding to the atmosphere of peace and reverence.

The construction of the Taj Mahal is such that it looks identical on each its four sides. The four pillars are deliberately built to lean out slightly so that in the event of collapse they would fall away from the mausoleum rather than towards it.

1983 Taj Mahal became a World Heritage site. It is the most visited site in India attracting at least 3 million visitors a year.

It was great to return to have breakfast with a head full of beautiful visions of the Taj Mahal. We were fortified (pardon the pun) for our visit to Agra Fort.

Agra Fort was built by the 3rd Mughal Emperor, Akbar (who built Fatepur Sikri). It was later converted to a palace by Shahjahan (who built the Taj Mahal) and it was to become his gilded cage when his son imprisoned him there until his death. It was house arrest rather than being locked in a room or cell and from the fort he could look back at the mausoleum he had built for his beloved wife.

You can just see the Taj over my shoulder.

On the way to the fort we had been taken to a marble outlet where we had a demonstration of the craftsmanship used to inlay the gemstones into the marble.

Apparently the craftsmen work out in the local villages and the pieces are decorated by hand. The marble is carved out, the gems are polished and shaped and then set in the marble with a special glue. The result is stunning and like mini Taj Mahal patterns on tables, vases, dishes and my favourites a jewellery box. I became the proud owner of my favourite box. Mark bartered hard but still needed a sit down after paying for it.

We decided to venture out for dinner and the walk was so much easier than Jaipur because there were pavements! Here is something we take for granted but here they are a rarity. The pedestrians along with the dogs, cows and pigs take their chances walking along the edge of the road. The pavement here was cobbled and dusty with holes and hazards but it was safer. Mind you it would be no surprised to find vehicles parked or taking a short cut along it as well. We had spotted two restaurants in the Lonely Planet and we scoped them both out. We plumped for

The food was tasty, the service was good and the price was cheap! The toilets were not the best but OK. The waiter recommended a starter of Dahi Idly/Vada, then Mark had the Thali and I had the Kerala Special. The chef was from S India so that cuisine was their specialty. We even dared to walk on the shopping street which was more like a high street as we know it with shoes being the main attraction. A walk home bought us nicely to the end of an amazing day.

FRIDAY 16TH FEBRUARY

I found Idly on the breakfast buffet this morning. It was little mounds of semolina and tasted pretty bland on its own, unlike my starter last night which was doused in yoghurt and cumin. The waiter questioned our choice of bacon and eggs and presented us with a plate of curry and puri. We declined his kind offer because not only did we not fancy curry but we were also full up having already eaten our cooked breakfast of the English variety. Meanwhile, unbeknown to us, Terry and Glad had been given a little picnic of cakes to take on the bus. We were not so lucky. We were given a questionnaire to complete.

We set off at 9.30 and travelled on the Agra Outer Ring road which was new, smooth and a pricey toll road.

Due to the comparatively high toll the road was empty by Indian standards. It was very much like travelling along a British motorway and whilst the advantage was speed the disadvantage was the distance from the activities of everyday life.

We passed acres of mustard crops and a massive area of brickworks. Along the roadside we saw a few pedestrians, a couple of dogs, a few hitchhikers but no cows or pigs!

As we drew nearer to Delhi there was extensive building occurring in what appeared to be the equivalent of ‘new towns’. There were block upon block of high rise apartments and offices.

The traffic started to become denser and the driving more erratic. We reached the Suryaa hotel from where our journey had begun. We were greeted with the typical warmth and hustle of the Indian hotels. Our rooms were sorted and we were whisked up in the lift to see the panoramic bar and restaurant in the hope that we would visit it during our stay.

A relaxing afternoon ensued. I managed to fit in a manicure which was very thorough, including nail shape, cuticle tidy, exfoliation, massage, mask, moisturiser then nail polish applied. All this was carried out by a very polite young man.

Paying the bill was slightly fraught because the price list in the spa had been altered with tippex to an inflated price. After a bit of negotiation and explanation I was charged the lower price then felt duty bound to let reception know that the spa had introduced a new price and therefore all of the lists in all of the rooms were potentially incorrect.

Dinner tonight was on the panoramic floor, which we had visited earlier. We indulged in happy hour in the bar then ate in the Sampan restaurant overlooking the city.

The food was delicious and all freshly cooked and our meal was accompanied by gentle instrumental music from Black Slade. The singer arrived and she was an excellent addition to the entertainment.

Rubbish tv at this hotel after having been spoilt with some really easy watching bedtime films for the last few nights. Plenty of Bollywood but 10 minutes at a time is more than enough.

SATURDAY 17TH FEBRUARY

Today we are on our own. No minibus and no guide. We had arranged with Terry and Glad to visit the Red Fort. We planned to share a taxi and this was arranged by the hotel for 10.00 am and the four intrepid travellers were off. 300 rupees for a 10km ride was quite a bargain by our standards. The taxi was compact and bijou but got us there safe and sound and neither the traffic nor the queue to get into the Fort was that bad.

We had audio guides and off we went through the Lahore Gate, into the bazaar under the drum tower and into the gardens.

The Fort is a World Heritage site and is currently under quite extensive renovations.

Whilst not as well preserved as the Agra Fort it followed a similar layout with features such as the Hall of Public Audience and a Hall of Private Audiences whose marble dias was said to have supported the famous Peacock Throne.

During the role of the English army barracks were built inside the grounds of the Red Fort.

Our next venture was to walk down the Chandni Chowk at least a hundred times busier than Oxford Street on a Saturday morning. We ventured in to a coffee shop but it was so busy we decided to go to the one in the Lodhi gardens, the next venue on our list. Our taxi was a little dilapidated but got us there in one piece much to Glad’s amazement.

The gardens were originally named Lady Willington Park after the British resident arranged to two villages cleared in order to landscape a park to remind her of home. After independence in 1947 the gardens were named after their Lodi era tombs.

The coffee shop was being renovated and we couldn’t find anywhere else nearby so we contended ourselves with a walk around the lovely park.

We travelled back to the hotel in this Ambassador classic and enjoyed a coffee there. We arranged to meet Glad and Terry for pre dinner drinks in the bar with a view. It was Happy Hour too!