Unhappy Gilmore: Ooty part 2

This is a longer entry, but one packed with interesting stories (I hope), so stick with it!

My last entry ended with a trip to Coonoor sabotaged by a stunning detour. The next day I did make it to Coonoor, which is a smaller version of Ooty that is yet to be developed/infected (depending on whether you like having a dominos pizza at a Nilgiris hill station) by tourism. It was pretty nice there and I stopped off at the train station to have a look at the UNESCO protected toy train which had pulled into the station as I arrived. I walked along the platform to look at the steam engine which famously powers the train. Whilst looking at the engine a group of girls started taking photos of me from the train (I told you this sort of thing keeps happening… But it may be explained by the fact that I apparently look like Imran Khan – the bollywood actor. You can be the judge of that). Anyway, I worked out that they were students on a school trip (that seems to be my fan-base…) so I spoke to their teacher who upon hearing I was from England decided I had to be introduced to the boys carriage. They were very excited to hear that I was English and that I had come on to their carriage, as you can see:

Only just noticed now that there is definitely one bloke who isn't impressed at all by my appearance! I did have a nice time chatting with the kids though.
I couldn't stay in Coonoor long though as I had organised with a friend of Sammy Peters (the family friend who is THE man for south India and especially Ooty) to play golf at the Gymkhana golf course in Ooty. This is a golf course I played at when I was a kid with my dad and brothers. Being a kid I didn't really realise just how much of a proper golf club this place was. Upon arrival I was asked which club I was part of in the UK when filling in the forms… I'm not part of a club!!! I'm awful at golf!! Obviously I made up a club (I think I may have said st.stephens club, no idea if that exists but most golf clubs I've heard of are named after a saint). I remember I used to run around laughing at my brothers when we played on the course all those years ago, I certainly wouldn't be running around this time… It turned out that I was going to laugh though, but sadly only at my inability to play golf on a very professional course.
I walked onto the course and strolled up to where we used to tee off from when we were kids and looked to the flag, it looked under 200 yards away, pretty doable even for someone of my limited golfing skills. I started to feel better about playing the 18-hole round I had foolishly paid for. Turned out we used to tee off from the women's tee and that the flag we used to aim for was for the 18th hole… The first hole was 560 yards long. Anyone who has played golf with me will know I am an awful driver of the ball (if you don't know about golf, that is basically when you wack it as hard as you can with a big club called a driver). So when my caddy handed me a driver and said aim straight over the hill to the left of the club house, I suddenly realised I shouldn't be on the course. However, I was there as a guest of Sammy's friend so I trudged up to the men's tee (this was one of those moments when I wished I'd been born a female, just to gain 50 yards on a golf course). I looked out across the course, looked down at the driver in my hands, looked across to the club house, saw the staff all looking up at me waiting to judge my first shot. This was my view:
All I could think was that I was going to hit the ball into the club house and knock one of the stuffed animal heads off the wall, or actually kill someone. Whatever happened I was pretty sure that after my first shot I would be escorted off the premises. I was beginning to feel what it must be like to take a penalty in a cup final, so much pressure on a single swing of the body. I put my ball on my tee and said a little prayer. I didn't ask for much, just that I didn't kill anyone and that the ball at least remained on the course. Im actually laughing right now at how nervous I was! I took a deep breath and let fly. It wasn't pretty, but my prayer was answered.
Sadly, as I headed down hill so did my game. I lost 2 balls on the first hole… I had rented 10. We all know 18×2 does not equal 10, I started to wish I had rented more balls. This is when the laughing began as I continuously hit my ball into the bushes, meaning my poor caddy had to go and find it. I realised I was going to have to tip him heavily at the end of the day. This became a regular sight for me:
Thankfully my short game was slightly rescuing my pride, but it wasn't helped by the obstacles on the courses:
Generally though Stevie Wonder would have played the first 6 holes better than I did. I sensed that even my very polite caddy was starting to get impatient, though he would never show it. So when he handed me my club for the 7th hole we both looked at each other knowing I needed a miracle as it was a tough hole. I walked up the steps to the tee and looked across at the up and down approach, with the stream in the middle of it. I was already visualising how I (my caddy more likely) would soon be knee deep in water trying to find my ball, I wasn't looking forward to it. This was the challenge I faced:
I was so desperate just to hit the ball straight and in the air, simple requirements for a good golf shot. I didn't care if it didn't go past the stream, just as long as it didnt go in. I swung with my eyes shut, something you should never do, but I couldn't face seeing my ball go into the stream. I swung and it was a beautiful connection. I couldn't believe it, it went straight and incredibly high and dropped with such force on the green that it dug into the earth. If I wasn't on an incredibly posh golf course I would probably have done a little dance. I walked cooly off the tee as if I had completely expected it to happen. That shot and eventual birdie was a turning point in the day and after that I played the 8th and 9th hole on par. However, I put this down to luck and called it a day when we got to end of the 9th hole. I think I may have said to my caddy I had pulled a muscle. Really I was desperate to finish after 3 good holes so that I left with some pride. I gave my caddy a 200% tip. I've never done that before. But then nobody has ever been stung numerous times by bushes rescuing lost golf balls and thus my pride.
After golf I was feeling rather tired so went back to my room at montauban guest house and had a good rest. I'm going to take this opportunity to pay tribute to Cathy and Rajan who looked after me like I was there only guest for almost 2 weeks. Cathy remembered me from when I was a child living in Ooty and was delighted to have me staying with them. She helped me meet old friends of my family and on a couple of occasions gave me lunch free of charge, and the food was excellent. Rajan, is the perfect specimen of what a gentleman should be. He is so hard working and you will never see him without a smile on his face. He seemed to work from 4.30am to 11.30pm every day, rain or shine. He would bring me a hot water bottle and a hot chocolate whenever he thought I looked cold. Also he would make sure I could have breakfast everyday at around 10.30am, whilst all the other guests ate at 8.30. There was no way I was getting up that early. They both made me feel completely at home and were incredibly kind people. Here are some pictures of them:
The heart warming Rajan smile:
That evening I had organised to meet up with Anil, the bloke who I met in my old house. I was looking forward to some company with someone who was around my age (I thought he looked around 26, turned out he was 19!). We went to a cafe and had a nice chat and got on very well. He's a good bloke and offered for me to join him at Avalanche camp where he was volunteering for a few days the next week. I generally am allergic to camping and sleeping anywhere that doesn't have hot water and a good mattress. But I thought it sounded like good fun and it meant I would have the company of Anil and the other campers which would be fun.
I spent the next couple of days mostly hanging out with Anil. I visited his home and family and the guesthouse where his dad was the manager. I met a nice German family staying there and we had some tea and carrot cake together (two things I never normally consume, turns out they are both pretty nice with enough sugar!). The mother of the German family got a phone call from her husband and next thing I knew I was sitting in the back of a 4×4 on my way to help lay the foundations of a house a charity was building. I was a bit hesitant about going… It was raining and I was wearing my blue trousers. I'm all for charity, but my blue trousers… I'm joking of course, I was very happy to have the opportunity to help out. As my family will tell you, I'm not good at getting my hands dirty but once I got there I found I was getting really into it. I even offered the 9 year old German kid (in red) 10 rupees if he worked really hard (that might be child labour, I'm not sure… If it is, that was actually a joke and I would never do that…), his eyes lit up and his hands came out of his pockets and we filled the foundations with concrete in good time. The kid never asked for the money in the end, seems he was just a good charitable lad.
The next day Anil and I visited Chamraj tea estate where apparently the tea for twinings and tetley is made. Sammy had organised for me to have a look round the factory with an old school friend of his. It was very interesting to see how it all worked. Also Anil and I got to wear hilarious hats:
After Chamraj we decided to have a chocolate filled doughnut from virtue bakes, Ooty's finest foodstuff in its finest bakery. Here it is, incredibly dangerous for me as a lactose intolerant fella, I ended up having two:
The next day Anil and I headed for Avalanche camp, a campsite next to Avalanche lake. Anil didn't know what kind of group would be attending the camp whilst I was there but I was hoping for people that were of a similar age to me. Turned out it was a group from a church in chennai and who were young adults so I was pretty happy with that. We got on the bus with them and headed down to the camp. They were all very nice people. We got as far as our bus could go on the drivable roads and then we switched to what is called the bone shaker. It is a massive 4×4 truck which people pile into the back of and it drives up the awful roads to the point where you walk to the camp. The bone shaker is an understatement, bone breaker may be a better name. I was pleased when it stopped and we got off to walk. I'd brought a small bag knowing we would have to walk with our luggage, and was very pleased with myself. Turns out the chennai lot weren't as enthusiastic about walking with one girl claiming she was going to faint after 5 minutes of walking uphill. She proceeded to sit on the floor and claim she couldn't move. Being the perfect gentleman I offered to take her (foolishly massive) bag. I was no longer feeling pleased with my little bag idea but at least we were moving again. It was a really nice walk, but it turns out the chennai lot were not designed to walk and I ended up having to carry a further 2 bags. I started with one small bag and finished carrying 4. Livid. Especially livid when my right foot slipped and half my leg was submerged into a massive puddle. I couldn't see my footing because I had that bloody massive bag on my front… However, the walk was generally lovely and it was nice to be in scenery that you would expect to find in Switzerland and not hot and dusty India. Some of my highlights from the walk:
The bone crushing road:
One of the 3 bags I had to help with:
A girl with footwear perfect for the walk…:
Our first sighting of the camp:
The first evening was a good chance for everyone to rest from the (apparently gruelling 45 minute) walk. I got to know a few of the chennai people and it was a nice reminder for me of just how similar the middle class of India and England are. That evening the speaker from the chennai church gave a talk, I have no idea what he spoke on, I lost track after the first 5 minutes as he was jumping from subject to subject. However I do remember one thing, he spoke for almost 2 hours. I just don't have the stamina for that sort of thing, especially sitting on a log. The chennai lot loved it though. Don't get me wrong, I can appreciate a good sermon or lecture if it is well delivered but I knew I needed to find a way of avoiding the talks over the next couple of days…
The next morning we went kayaking, after a 1.5 hour long talk which I had failed to escape. As only 4 people could kayak at a time the rest of the group were set a task to make a raft. We had a tarpaulin and the surrounding natural resources (branches, leaves, bark etc). The next 3 hours were excellent and resulted in me seeing two of the funniest things ever. The first was seeing this bloke capsize his kayak:
Ajay was his name and he was a lovely fella and also found the capsizing hilarious, so I didn't feel too bad laughing at him. So I did, a lot.
Secondly, this the raft they made (I couldn't be bothered to help… I was too busy watching people kayak hoping they would capsize):
Seriously, I'm not kidding, that is the “raft” they made. I was in pain trying to hide my laughter. It was just a bunch of logs wrapped up in the tarpaulin! It failed miserably, obviously.
After the kayaking we went on a gorge walk much to dismay of the anti-walking chennai lot. I was loving it though as it reminded me of Becky Falls in Dartmoor which is one of my favourite places. We walked all the way up to an impressive waterfall. Ajay again contributed some great memories by stumbling over numerous times. He ended the walk completely drenched.
When we got back from the walk I realised I didn't feel well at all. My stomach started cramping up so I lay down and just moaned. I skipped dinner and was still in bed in pain when the evening talk began. Shortly afterwards I realised my body was not pleased with what was in my stomach so I walked down in the dark to the toilets with no lights. I got there and the nauseous feeling had disappeared, I obviously had vomit stage fright. I was about to turn around and head back to my bed when my stomach cramped badly and I knew I had to be proactive in ridding the problem. To put it simply I made myself throw up. It wasn't pretty and I was feeling very sorry for myself as the whole of my lunch exited my body. You'll be pleased to hear there are no photos for this part… To all those who have ever wondered if projectile vomiting is a real thing, it is. Whilst throwing up I realised I could still hear the talk going on up the hill. Suddenly stomach cramps and vomiting didn't seem so bad. The talk lasted 2.5 hours that evening.
I went to bed early that night and woke up feeling pretty fragile and with no appetite whatsoever. However I knew if my mum was there she would say I had to eat something, so I did:
I was pretty sure that couldn't do me any harm. After the food I began to feel a bit better. The good weather helped too as the clouds had disappeared meaning we had this wonderful view:
As the day went on I began to feel a bit better but wasn't up to much. I certainly wasn't well enough to go to the talk… Which this time lasted a modest 2hrs. Naturally, I was feeling much better when it was time for the group activities. Today we were going to be climbing up a rope web and over the brach it was hanging on and down the other side. Due to my arms being long enough to persuade anyone of evolution I find this type of thing relatively easy. The chennai lot didn't.
I had seen two hilarious things during my stay at avalanche camp. I heard a third. After a couple of unsuccessful climbs by the chennai folk, this man stepped up with a look of determination in his eyes:
He started his ascent well and reached this point:
Things started to get funny when it became evident he was stuck. He didn't have he strength to get himself over the branch, but try telling him that. He kept pushing and was trying to squeeze himself over. That's when he pushed and squeezed a bit too hard and let out a hilarious fart. I almost died on the spot. I wasn't able to breath from the laughter. Obviously laughing at farts is the most immature thing anyone can do, but it is also the only thing that can make any human laugh, no matter what age they are or what language they speak. Also having grown up with my two brothers, laughing at farts is what we spent most of our childhood doing. The super serious leader of the group (the guy in the background of the first picture) also broke down into tears of laughter. Sadly not even the propulsion of that fart couldn't get him over the branch and he came down unsuccessful.
After the drama of the climbing it was time for me to go back to Ooty. The chennai group wasn't going back until the next day but I needed to get back to catch the train to my next destination. Even though I had fallen ill I was very pleased I went on the camp as I made some good friends. This is the group I was put in, outside of being in the same team for activities we were also in charge of cleaning the toilets (as you can imagine I was delighted to hear that news…) However nothing brings young people together like cleaning toilets:
Anil and I trekked out of the camp together and got a taxi back to Ooty. I ended up spending a couple more days in Ooty as I was going to get my train at a later date. So I took the opportunity to visit my old school, Hebron School. I spent most of my year in Ooty in this school and have very fond memories of my time there, so I was really looking forward to going back. Turns out that the school is pretty much as I remember it. The same uniform, the same steel plates laid out in the big dining room, the same paint on the buildings even. I saw the place where I had once watched my friend burn ants with a magnifying glass, I saw the basketball court where we used to play 5 a side football (the 7-5 comeback match in which I scored a hat trick will never leave me…), I saw the corner where I had held my “girlfriend's” (primary school romances are always in quotation marks) hand for the first time and then ran away because I saw my friends sniggering behind the trees. It struck me that I had so many memories of the school, but none of them were to do with my academics. I think that is probably the case for most of my life and maybe for others too. I don't remember much of the stuff which is supposed to be important, but there are a collection of little things which most people wouldn't notice that I will never forget.
Right, it appears I have become too familiar with writing a blog and have started to become philosophical, so it seems a perfect time to stop before I get any worse. The day after visiting my school, I took the toy train down through the Nilgiris. Below are some of my favourite pictures from the journey.
The steam engine being connected halfway through the journey:
A hotel opposite the Ooty station that will find it hard to attract English-speaking customers. Or get a very specific clientele…:
A very excited baby:
General pictures to close:
 

 

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The One Man Show: Ooty part 1

 

I'm currently sitting in the famous botanical gardens in Ooty (my current view is the picture below). I've now been in the Nilgiris for 11 days (I think it is 11 – I'm experiencing the 'lose track of days' syndrome that everyone gets when on holiday). A lot of things have happened in that time and hopefully I'll be able to recount the best bits in my two-part blog entry for Ooty.

I arrived at the bus station in Mysore early to catch the bus to Ooty. The climb up to Ooty is a beautiful experience, if you can ignore the long drops at the side of the road. Now, I'm not sure if I have been cursed or not, but it seems I can't have an Indian bus journey without vomit being part of the experience! As I was getting off the bus I saw a boy, who was yet to get off, slam his hand to his mouth and I saw his cheeks begin to expand. Having experience in such matters I knew the signs and rushed off the bus thankfully avoiding a disaster like last time, but I do feel I will have to be wary on every bus I take from now on. I'd like to say this is the last time I mention vomit, but sadly, as you will soon see in part 2, it isn't…

Around 11-12 years ago my family lived in Ooty for a year. That is the main reason I wanted to go back, to see how it compared to my memories. I got to Ooty and headed straight to Montauban guest house, the place my family stayed in when we first arrived in Ooty all those years ago. I was given an excellent welcome from Cathy and Rajan (the manager and her assistant) who both said they remembered me and were delighted to see me back, so I felt immediately at home. An interesting fact, Cathy is the lady who cut off my rat's tail (no I don't know why my parents let me have one either…) as I wasn't allowed it for my school in ooty, so I actually owe her a great deal as she saved my social life with that single snip. I will give a little tribute to them in part 2 as they have been brilliant for me during my stay. Basically they are the nicest people in the universe. Talking of space, fun fact for you all: if the earth was the size of a white blood cell then the milky way would be the size of north and south America combined. Yes, that is mental.

Once settled into my room I decided I'd go for a stroll around Ooty to see if I remembered any of it. What began was a onslaught of de ja vus. I walked down streets I recognised the shape and feel of and entered buildings I was certain I had once been in.

Sorry, a kid has just sat down next to me and is staring at my iPad, so I better show him a few tricks, here he is:

Ok, he has run off to tell his parents now. I still remember the first day I saw a camera phone, who knows maybe this moment will stick with him… Anyway! Carrying on from before. Walking around Ooty was a wonderful experience for me as I remembered a lot more than I had expected to and was able to navigate around it without a map which was a nice feeling. I was getting very hungry and decided to set off to find my old favourite bakery, Hot Breads. I was gutted to find it had been replaced by a restaurant. Even worse it was a “100% pure veg” restaurant, so it wasn't even as if I could use it as a substitute. I found a mediocre cafe (it was actually pretty good, but I still had a bitter taste in my mouth about Hot Breads) and had some food there. That was enough excitement for one day, and I headed back to watch the 9pm movie on HBO, I think it was Jim Carrey at his best in The Mask.

The next day was Sunday which meant I could visit the church my family used to go to, Union church. I don't remember many people from when I was last in ooty, however I did remember the pastor of the church. He was the man who inspired me in one of the most important areas of my life: whistling. Not what you were expecting I imagine. However, as a kid I remember being in his house and I heard him whistling in another room and I thought it was beautiful. Now I admit whistling for most people is an annoying noise, but I love it. I decided that day to whistle like him. So when I walked into the church I immediately spotted Pastor Grenville. The service started badly for me as I managed to spill water on my lap, leaving a large dark patch in an awkward place on my bright blue trousers. Standing up for songs was quite embarrassing. However the service ended well as I introduced myself to pastor Grenville. He was really happy to see me and spoke highly of my parents. Turns out my parents made quite an impact with a lot of people in their year in Ooty! Pastor Grenville very kindly invited me for lunch and we were about to set off when a man came over and introduced himself with “hi, I like your trousers”. Whilst my trousers are excellent (the wet patch had thankfully dried by now) it wasn't what i was expecting! The conversation moved on and I told him my dad was Raj Patel, “Raj Patel! Why didn't you say!? He was a great man, Merry was also wonderful, you have to come for lunch with us!”. As you can see my parents are much liked around here, meaning lots of free lunches for me!

Oh sorry again, iPad is attracting attention but on a bigger scale this time!

Ok that turned into something much bigger than I expected. I'm now back in my room at Montauban as I couldn't continue writing in the park, such was the attention the iPad got! The people just kept on coming! Initially a few kids came over to have a look at the iPad. Turns out they were on a school trip, so it ended up that around 30 kids came over and wanted to see it! They got very excited by having their pictures taken, and found the pictures with special effects particularly entertaining. When they found out I was from England I immediately became a hero in their eyes and the next thing I knew they were whipping out their camera phones and taking photos of me, shaking my hand, and asking to try on my glasses! As I walked out of the park a few of them were running through the trees ahead of me to say goodbye before I went out the gate. As you will see in part 2, this sort of thing keeps happening to me… I really should try and make it in the Bollywood world… Anyway, they were lovely kids and they invited me to visit their school in Kerala, I will if I can. Here are a few of the pictures I got with them:

Ok where was I? O yeah, so I went for lunch with pastor Grenville and organised to go for dinner with JC (the guy who liked my trousers) another day. I also organised to visit JC's clothes shop as I was interested to see how a small business in India is run. After a lovely lunch I took my scooter which I had rented (the best and cheapest way to see a new place) and went up to Dodabetta peak, the highest peak in south India. There the view of Ooty and the surrounding Nilgiris is rather special.

The next day the weather was pretty awful meaning I was kept inside most of the day. Being honest, by the evening I was feeling pretty lonely. I had been away for a while and when you spend most of your time alone whether travelling or sitting in a restaurant, it is easy to feel a bit lonely. The fact it had rained all day probably didn't help either. Anyway, I was determined to enjoy myself and had to accept the fact that I was travelling alone, so these things were to be expected!

The next morning I woke up quite late and trudged out into the rain to get my breakfast. On my way over to the dining room, pastor Grenville pulled up in his car and said he had come over to show me my old house, for which he is the landlord. I was pretty tired and very hungry, but he was very kind to come and I did want to see my old place, so I happily accepted his offer. Walking through the house was really strange but brought back so many memories. I saw my old room where mum had once chatted with me for about 4 hours straight in the middle of the night when I was finding it hard to settle into my new school (I was asleep for the last 3 hours – mum is good for that stuff). I sat in the living room where I used to eat a bowl of cereal on the floor and watch Spacejam every weekend. Everything felt a lot smaller, but otherwise it was exactly as I remembered it. There was a guy (Anil) who was using the house as an office whilst the tenants were away for a few months and he looked about my age, so it was too good an opportunity for lonely old me to miss. I took Anil's number and said it would be great to grab a drink with him sometime. As you will see in part 2, that random meeting turned out to be really significant for me as it not only solved the loneliness issue, but I also made a great friend.

The next day I visited JC's shop. I met his tailor and put in an order for a shirt, I also met one of his employees. Apparently this guy (Vinod) is actually 18 years old! I'm not sure how that could be possible looking at him, but I've seen stranger things in India.

JC then suggested we play some snooker. Considering Ooty is where the rules originate, I figured it would be wrong of me not to. To put it simply, I had my butt kicked. After the snooker lesson, I once again hopped on my scooter to do a bit of exploring. I had intended to head over to Coonoor, but had been told by a teacher at my old school that Lovedale on the way was a beautiful stop to make. He wasn't wrong. I headed off the Coonoor road towards Lovedale and as the sun came out I was struck by the outrageous beauty of the Nilgiri landscape. I was about to head out of Lovedale back towards Coonoor when the adventurer in me decided to turn left instead of right. Quite easily one of the best decisions I've ever made. I headed down a road where each corner opened up a whole new scene of epicness, so I just kept going. The journey was made even better by my soundtrack, 'my favourite classical pieces' playlist on Spotify, Smetana's Má Vlast was particularly fitting. It was only when I was driving through a cloud that I decided it was really time to turn around. However I picked up a superb and much needed egg puff and stopped at the best viewpoint I had come across to watch the sunset. Here are a few pictures from the journey, I've put in a link for Má Vlast as well because it is worth listening to if you have never heard it before. Also hopefully it will help you imagine the sensory overload I was getting as I drove about!

Má Vlast:

Lovedale:

Some kids I came across. A couple were very pleased to have their pictures taken, the others, as you can see, took rather drastic action to avoid it!

The road past Lovedale:
A very cute baby I came across when buying my egg puff:
Where not to accidentally leave your keys as you buy an egg puff from a bakery in a place in the middle of nowhere from which you have no other means of getting out of:
The much talked about egg puff:
Sunset at the viewpoint:
Now many of those pictures are very beautiful, I'm sure the egg puff springs to mind for most. However, there was also another beautiful thing in the Nilgiris that day: my scooter. I often get attached to two-wheeled vehicles and this scooter is no exception. I knew we would get along when I saw what was written on the side of it. It is perfectly named given the solo nature of my travels:
Now to go with my scooter I needed a pretty awesome outfit. I think this one suffices:
The yellow waterproof trousers made me think of Ali G and I fell in love with them as soon as I saw them. Also the outfit makes me quite easy to spot, something that is very necessary for driving in India!
Right I think that is enough for part 1, lots more to come in part 2 including a highly embarrassing round of golf, camping in the wilderness and the day I helped build a house.

 

Then a boy vomited on my leg…

I'll get onto the vomiting boy in a bit… First, Bangalore.

I arrived into Bangalore at around 4am and took a taxi to my hotel. Having not slept on the plane (someone has to stay awake to make sure everything is working…) I was rather tired when I got to the hotel by 5am. So to be told I couldn't check in until midday wasn't the best news. I was told I could pay for an extra night to have it then. 30 minutes later lying on a cramped sofa in the lobby, I was regretting not saying I would take the room. However at the exact moment I decided to get up and ask the receptionist to give me the room, he was there standing next to the sofa telling me I could have the room for free! So that was a good start.

I spent 2 days in Bangalore and I really liked it. Compared to Delhi and Mumbai it is cleaner, quieter, and seems more manageable for a newcomer. I think that is probably because it is a smaller city (still the same size as London though – fun fact: there are 53 urban agglomerations in India that have more than a million people!). Also the fact that there is so much foreign investment – due to the technology skill base – means that the middle class is growing and you can feel that the city is positive about its future. A good example of this is the bar 13th Floor where I went on my first evening in Bangalore. It's a bar on the 13th floor (obviously) of a building in the centre of the city, where all the young professionals go after work. When I arrived it was pumping loud music and was full of merry young men drinking together, walking in by myself I felt a little bit out of place! However I spotted a single stool free which allowed me to look out over the city and introduced myself to the American bloke next to me. I think when you travel alone you develop a sixth sense for who you could possibly have a conversation with, thankfully it worked and I made a new friend. This is the view from the bar the next day when I went back for the sunset:

 

After Bangalore I took the train to Mysore, a place known for its spirituality and architectural beauty. Mysore was recommended to me by Sammy Peters, a good family friend and south India expert. There is lots to do and see in Mysore, but first stop was the zoo. It is probably the best zoo I've ever been to. For 40 rupees (about 50p) you can get in and see an incredible range of animals:

However, the signs in the zoo caught my attention just as much as the animals. They were rather graphic…
My next day in Mysore was brilliant. I got on the bus on the way to the top of Chamundi Hill, one of the eight holy peaks in India. I was standing at the front of the bus by the stairs and as people were getting off the bus I felt water drop all down my left leg, at least I thought it was water. I realised it was too warm to be water, could it be tea, coffee, soup? I wish it had been. Turned out it was a little boy's vomit. I can still smell it now as I write about it… As you can imagine I was rather frustrated, so naturally I started laughing at how ridiculous the situation was. The poor boy was obviously queasy from all the turns in the road and was rushing to get off the bus, he just didn't do it quickly enough. Kindly he gave me a hanky to wipe it off, but it really didn't do the job. As the journey continued the heat of the bus didn't do the vomit on my leg any favours. I was in desperate need of a wash, as were my shorts. I was really hoping there would be a bathroom or a tap or something that would provide some water to rinse me off. What I didn't expect was what greeted me when I rounded the corner of the bus stop at the top of the hill. There in front of me was a gift from god: a public baths! I couldn't believe my eyes, for just one rupee I was able to go in and have a bucket bath and wash my shorts, there was even soap waiting for me in the cubicle! What a result! After washing and ditching my boxers which I couldn't face putting on again, I set off all clean and commando to the temple.
This is the cubicle that saved me, it looks much better when you are covered in vomit:
On route to the temple there was a wedding hall with a lot of commotion around it, so I thought I'd check it out. Turns out people we're queuing up to eat at a wedding reception! As I'm getting married next year, I found this a rather amusing sight, I won't say whether I thought it was a good idea or not though! At the same time as the wedding, right outside the front door of the hall, there was a saree auction going on. That most certainly is a bad idea for a wedding… However, I was intrigued and went to see how it was done. I think I may have read it somewhere, or it may just be a logical realisation, but if you want to speak to someone in India in English you should aim for young people. I spotted a young couple who looked as if they were about to bid on a saree and asked them how it worked. I watched as the guy bidded for a saree his partner desperately wanted. The auctioneer did them no favours, counting down painfully slowly, but eventually they won the bid and together we started a 3 person round of applause. The couple then said I should follow them to the temple and that they would should me round. An offer I couldn't and thankfully didn't refuse as I wouldn't have had a clue in the temple! Also whilst following them round they explained everything to me and showed me what is done in a temple. Whilst I don't believe the same thing that they do, it was interesting for me to see how they and so many others practice their religion. This is a picture I got with the couple (Chandur and Kathy):
It was time to leave Chamundi hill, but before that I wanted to give the couple a gift for all the kindness they had shown me. I forgot to mention they got me in to the temple as a local, paying for my ticket in the process, ignoring all my protests. I felt I really owed them, as they had made my day. What better a gift than a second saree for Kathy, so i dragged them back to the auction. Here is a picture of the very happy Kathy with the saree I bought for her:
They then offered to give me a lift back, to which I agreed. I didnt want to risk another vomit incident. However I didn't realise they meant on a scooter… We squeezed on and headed down the hill. We stopped at another shrine where they very proudly showed me the “second largest bull statue in India”.
We didn't hang around there too long, but long enough for them to once again prove themselves to be lovely people as they bought me a little gold elephant! I was very happy with it and there is a picture of it just chilling outside Mysore palace coming up in a bit. Before Mysore palace though, they had one more surprise for me on their 'program' – i say program as that is what they called it, they literally just adopted me under their wing for the afternoon and planned everything around me! At one point Chandur got a call from his boss asking where he was as he was supposed to be at work! Anyway, the surprise that was waiting was one I would rather not have got… They stopped by the side of the road at a tiny shack, which was apparently a shop and bought me butter milk. Now on paper that sounds alright, so I said I'd go for it. How wrong I was. Turns out it is a watery/yoghurty/salty drink. Actually drink is the wrong word, challenge seems more appropriate. That's exactly what it became for me, how could I drink all of it so as not to offend them without making a face or throwing up? Thankfully, as a young boy I along with some friends started a little club, the Keel club (the name is a story in itself) for no reason other than wanting to be cool, but usefully (for this sort of occasion only) we decided that to be initiated into the club you had to drink a disgusting concoction of kitchen ingredients. So I was well trained for this sort of event, and it required all of my skills to get through it, but thankfully I made it. However I knew in the long run I would regret it, being lactose intolerant and pretty certain as i was that the water in the drink wasn't purified, my stomach was going to pay for me having drunk it eventually.
My last stop for the day was Mysore palace where I said goodbye to the lovely couple. The palace from the outside is stunning and takes your breath away, but go inside and your mind is blown. Without doubt it is the most impressive building I've ever been in. Yes it is a little tattered in some places, but if you look beyond the dust and imagine what it must have once looked like, you can't help but wish you were a Maharaja back then. Sadly they don't allow you to take photos inside the palace, but that of course only encouraged me! So I will end this blog entry with a selection of the photos I took outside and inside the palace. I apologise for the quality of the inside ones, trying to covertly take pictures with an iPhone is tricky.
To finish, i must say that in hindsight I'm very pleased that boy vomited on my leg, if he hadn't I may never have met that couple and had the experience that I did on that day. However, I'll be pleased if it never happens to me again.
I'm now in Ooty, a wonderful place where I spent a year of my childhood and look forward to writing about it soon, I'm hope you'll read that one too.
Pictures from Mysore palace below: (One of the photos below reminds us all of the dangers of asking someone to take a photo for you, another reminds me that I might actually be a celebrity in India. The last picture is just a poster of traffic laws and their fines for Mysore, it made me laugh I was pretty sure i'd seen all of them being broken at some point. In case you want to do the conversions, it is about 80 rupees to the pound)
 
 
 
 
 

 

 

My India blog

NB: The below blog entry was written on the day I left, and I haven't been able to find wifi since then! Even though I'm in the technology capital of India… I'll write another one for the last few days soon.

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I'm currently sitting in one of those seats on the plane that parents with small children usually have. It seems that the people that were supposed to have it didn't turn up. The leg room is a delight. In other news, the plane is now airborne and I am on my way to Bangalore! Obviously this will be a rather short blog entry as getting on the plane and it taking off is all that I have really done so far. However, I thought i would write something as the in flight entertainment isn't working yet.

I hope with this blog I will be able to inform the reader of what I do over the next 5 and a bit weeks in India. I will aim to describe my experiences as I go back to visit the other country I'm from. I also want to write about the smaller things that happen to me that make a big difference to my trip. You will also notice, if you persist in reading my blog entries (please do as it will mean I pressure myself into doing interesting things…) that I often talk about things that seem incredibly mundane, just take it as my attempts to paint a picture.

Upon arriving to the airport having said goodbye to my lovely Katie, i realised I had two main worries. First was that I was actually travelling alone for the first time and it was rather intimidating. Second was that I really needed to charge my iPad. So I headed to a seat that was next to one of those free charging stations in terminal 5, plugged in my iPad, gave a manly nod to gentleman next to me and proceeded to open up my 1 litre bottle of innocent smoothie. Being a member of generation X/Y (can't remember which one it is… whichever one I'm in) I had my headphones in. I heard a noise that seemed strange to me given I was in London. I eventually realised it was someone I didn't know trying to talk to me. It was the friendly looking gentleman who I had nodded to earlier. He asked if I was drinking milk, to which I replied with an impressive sales pitch (I'm a big fan of innocent) that it was actually an innocent smoothie. The conversation moved on nicely and I found out he was from California and was also travelling alone having just been to Portugal, but that he dreamt of going to India one day. He was a catholic who had an avid interest in buddhist teachings and he wanted to learn more about them in India. He seemed a pretty interesting guy. He told me all about his children and how he had moved from iraq to america, and the challenges his generation had compared to ours – he's right! He also looked like Ben Kingsley (according to himself) and the bloke who was in charge of the Fed during the credit crunch, Alan Greenspan (according to me). We talked about economics as it was what he had a degree in and how he had lost a million dollars on the stock exchange due to the dot com bubble, but didn't care because of what he had learnt about Buddha. We eventually said a very friendly goodbye during which he shook my hand three times and offered up many wise words about life, which I happily accepted.

This was one of the smaller things that I said I would occasionally write about, but it has made a big difference. Whilst I charged my iPad I also began to feel a bit better about my other worry by meeting Kyriakos (the old fella's name). I realised that my other worry will work itself out. I just have to make sure I don't keep my headphones in all the time (metaphorically, of course).

This is a picture of me and Kyriakos just before he shook my hand for the third time and said goodbye. He does look quite like Ben Kingsley!

 

 

Books I want to read on my trip

I am now certainly in love with my kindle. I can carry hundreds of books with me and download more whenever I am in a wifi area (not many places left in the world without them everywhere). Because of this new access to literature that the kindle provides me I have realised that there are so many books that I want to read. Over the last few days a few have popped into my head and I have wanted to queue them up to be read. I thought I would join my blogging about my travels with blogging about reading. My uncle Colin has a lot to do with this, his blog is v cool. I’m not sure I will be able to get through books as quickly as he does or be as loyal to my blog. However I want to give it a good go.

Books to be read:
Key to Rebecca – ken follett
Dreams from my father – Barack Obama
Midnight’s children – salman rushdie
Ken follett’s century trilogy
Re-read millennium trilogy

There are others but I can’t think of them now, far too tired after 26 hour journey from Africa back home and then a full day which included the purchase of the iPad with which I am typing this, my first blog entry