India – Part 3

India – Part 3

India Gate

India is a 3 part blog. Last week in – Part 2 – I spoke of food, shopping and the Golden Triangle and the week before in – Part 1 – I spoke about north vs south, climate, the people

Holy cows roaming the streets

One of the things I found quite a head twister was going into temples and seeing carvings and pictures of karma sutra activities around me. My Western upbringing doesn’t allow me to think of sex and religious space mixing together. Yet, despite graphic images of people in flagrante delicto in holy places, Indians are surprisingly conservative. We had to cover our shoulders and heads when we entered a temple. Woman are advised to cover up when out and about anyway. And flashing the soles of the feet is offensive as is using the left had to point or touch anything. Apparently the left hand is used for toilet functions and is considered unclean. It’s quite hard to remember to keep one’s feet flat and the left hand inactive.

These Sikhs let me take a pic and then got really angry

We also visited Karni Mata Temple where the devotees worship rats. The temple was full of rats and they have free reign of the place. Read more here. Most temples require that you remove your shoes. I just couldn’t do it. The thought of stepping in rat droppings and having rats all over my feet was not for me. Apparently the group saw an albino rat which is supposed to be highly auspicious so sadly I missed out.

Here’s another thing I wasn’t expecting. I knew cows were considered holy in India but I somehow thought they would be in sanctuaries. Not so. They roam the streets eating grass on the side of the road or rummaging through garbage piles all the while leaving cow dung behind. Often the cows were in ill health as were dogs that roam the streets.

Going for a camel ride in the Thar Desert

I thoroughly enjoyed a visit to a Jain temple. We had a platter of delicious vegetarian food prepared by their devotees. Jain people only eat during daylight. They wear white clothes that have not been stitched. I found the sheer amount of religions and practices in India mind boggling. As we went from temple to temple, we were

Locals come to chat and make friends
Porters with traditonal turba

allowed to partake in some of the ceremonies. Usually for a fee. In fact even taking photos of most places involved a fee. There was a camera tax at most entrances.

People hang around when you’re taking photos and actually ask you to take a picture of them, then promptly demand money. My pics were photo bombed all the time.

And then there are those who absolutely do not want you taking their photo. I very nearly got lynched by two Sikh blokes who looked fabulous complete with fancy swords. I had no idea they would take exception to a photo. I was saved by the swift intervention of our tour guide.

Another highlight for me was sleeping in a tented camp in the Thar Desert. The owner of this place was quite charismatic and regaled us with tales of his visitors and famous friends. Our group took an obligatory camel ride out into the desert. The staff and owners at some of the places we stayed were so much fun. Indian people are warm, friendly, proud of their country and love to interact. Men shared stories and anecdotes while the ladies ensured we were well fed. Gender roles are traditional.

Covering our heads to go into Golden Temple

There is so much to do and see that a list of absolute must-sees is impossible. Ideally you want to see both north and south India to get a full idea of what India is like. Trying out curries and taking in temples or ashrams should be high on anyone’s list as they are unique to India. Visiting the markets and taking a rickshaw ride there and back are also easily done and add authenticity to your trip. For more ideas check out – Lonely Planet Guide.

The educated people and those from higher castes all spoke perfect English. The poorer people and lower castes could not. The caste system although abolished is still heavily entrenched in the minds of people. You see untouchables living on the streets. I found it so hard that these people accept this as their lot and see death as the only way out. Read more – here

Tented accommodation in the Thar Desert

India is a riot to the senses. Whether it’s the people themselves in bright twisted turbans and rich beaded saris, or their spicy foods and sticky sweets, loud bustling cities filled buskers and traders or hypnotic dancers and prayer rituals. You can’t help but be mesmerised by such a deep culture that binds it’s people together in layers of abject poverty and regal opulence.

Go to – My Holidays and Trips – at the top of this page to read about other places we have visited. Or just click on – this link.

India – Part 2

India – Part 2

Friendly locals gather around me to chat

This blog is written in 3 parts. Last week in – Part 1 – I talked about north vs south India, the climate and the people.

I want to talk about the things I loved about India. Firstly the food. There are apparently more vegetarians in India alone than the rest of the world combined. Forty percent of the population is vegetarian. You saw the population figures in the last post. That’s a lot of vegetarians. India is heaven for vegetarians.

Raj Ghat for Ghandi

As it happens I love curry and I got to eat curry for breakfast, lunch and supper. As you do in India. Most Indian menus have a tiny section with ‘non-vegetarian’ food. It’s normally the other way round in Western countries. I’ve never had it so good. One word of warning. Do not under any circumstances eat street food. Our tour guide told us exactly where we could and couldn’t eat. After three weeks, I got brave and tried a place he hadn’t suggested and I got – Delhi Belly. I won’t elaborate but you do NOT want this to happen to you.

The face says it all – Greenie about to tuck into a curry

The same applies to bottled water that the locals sell on the streets. We were told it’s not always clean pure water so don’t even think about buying it. Indian curries come with lots of accompaniments and trying out various vegetables and masala (spice) combinations was great fun. Not to missed either is Masala Chai (spiced tea), Lassi (smoothie) and Indian. They have so many sweets to choose from and are unlike anything in the west.

One little piece of advice. Indians eat their curries fire hot. If you get asked how you like your curry, there is a big difference between an English hot curry and an Indian hot curry. Start with a mild curry and work up to your preferred heat from there.

Heritage accommodation

India is a shoppers paradise. Pack light because you are sure to do quite a bit of shopping. You can’t help it. Prices are good and you find things unlike anything anywhere else. I bought embroidered pashminas, Kerela towels (great for traveling), hand-made leather shoes, gorgeous fabrics, jewelery made with silver and semi precious stones, books and cotton bohemian style clothing. There are also table cloths, bed linen, teas, hand carved wooden items, cloth bags and much, much more. If I could have, I would have bought more.

Visiting a local villager to taste chickpea dumplings

The best prices are to be found on the streets at the markets. Locals will try and push their prices up on seeing you are a foreigner so first walk around going from stall to stall. Check prices between vendors. It won’t take long before sellers run after you dropping their prices and hustling, trying to score a sale. If it all gets too much, and it can, it’s easier to shop at the tourist shops. Prices are higher but you still get good deals and you will be safe from over pushy traders. One thing I can promise, if the street traders spot a buyer, they will hound and harass you, even after you have bought bags of goods, they will go on and on trying to sell to you. If you can tough it out you will get excellent bargains.

I visited – The Golden Triangle – which is where most new visitors to India go and India’s most popular destination. The triangle is between Delhi, Agra and Jaipur. Our tour took in lots of temples and historical places. Key attractions in the big cities such as the Taj Mahal and Raj Ghat are included but we also got to stay in places like the Venice of the east – Udaipur.

Venice of the East – Udaipur

Our accommodation at night was mostly in old palaces, castles and forts. India has an affirmative action policy whereby people from lower castes are being given opportunities to move up the ladder. Royal and land owning families are exempt from these programmes. As a result many are turning their land, palaces and castles into tourist accommodation to make a living. We took turns to sleep in the royal quarters which are historical rooms decorated in heritage style. Accommodation on the tour was interesting and varied. Our tour guide told us he was a prince. His father was apparently a Maharajah and his mum a Maharani.

Local ladies washing clothes in the lake

Breakfast was included. Sometimes our evening meal plus entertainment by local musicians and dancers was in-house. Or we went out to a restaurant for our evening meal. I like a glass of wine with my supper but in India I took to drinking one of their local beers – Kingfisher with our meals.

Next week in the final – Part 3 – I will be discussing temples, holy animals, castes  

Go to – My Holidays and Trips – at the top of this page to read about other places we have visited. Or just click on – this link.

India

India

Travel in India in 2006

The ubiquitous Tuk Tuk

India blog is a 3 part series. Next week I will post Part 2 and the week after Part 3.

Heritage accommodation

I visited India in 2006. Although it could have been 1706. Almost every place I have visited has been somewhat affected by modern trends. People wear jeans, eat McDonald’s and watch American programmes on TV. Not in India. Despite many years of British occupation and rule, and Indians have taken on some English customs to be sure, India is still a country wrapped up in it’s own culture and ancient rituals. Women continue to dress in traditional clothing, curries are eaten by Indians every single day and Bollywood sagas are preferred to American box office movies.

Indigo coloured buildings in Jodhpur
Snake charmers

India is the seventh largest country in the world and has over a billion people, the second largest population after China. I was warned before I went to India that I would be captivated by the colourful people and rich history – but –  that I must also be prepared for poverty on a scale I would not be able to anticipate. Hey, I come from South Africa, please, I’ve seen poverty. Well actually I hadn’t seen anything like I saw in India. And it is hard to take in. On arrival at Delhi airport I saw squatter settlements right next to the airport. I stepped over rows of women sleeping next to each other on pieces of cardboard in the toilets. I talk about my arrival and departure in – this – blog post and you may want to read it before heading for India.

India is pretty much divided into the north and the south. The northern people are fairer, have straighter hair, eat red tomato based curries and meat. North Indian women wear salwaar and kameez. In the south, people are darker, have curlier hair, eat yellow curries with coconut and rice. They are predominantly vegetarian, but they do eat some seafood. South Indian women wear saris.

Frescoed building

India is a hellava hot country. In summer, average temperatures are between 30’C and 40’C, but can nudge up well into the forties. The best time to visit is during the cooler months from November to March. Make sure you avoid the monsoon which arrives late May. I travelled mid season and I found it hot and humid. Big Indian cities are polluted and the combination of muggy heat and smog made me feel grubby. All I wanted was to wash and wash. My tip is to pack light cotton clothing and make sure you have wet wipes and toilet paper with you at all times. Many of the toilets are a hole in the ground and toilet paper is not always provided. You get used to it after a while.

Local pharmacy
Sikh Temple

I did the trip with a tour group – Imaginative Traveller – and I would recommend that anyone visiting India for the first time do the same. Con artists and pick pockets are everywhere. Beggars can surround and overwhelm you in a flash and make venturing out unbearable. Forty four percent of the population live on less that $1 a day so it’s to be expected. On top of that, Indian people are inquisitive and super friendly. They love to speak English. At times I felt like an A list celebrity as people flocked around me to ask my name and hang on to me. For more statistics on India hit – this link.

Doing the tour with a group meant we had a guide who looked after us and knew the dodgy areas or people. Our group was safe for the most part but we did have a woman who lost her bag on a train. One of the porters brought her luggage onto our train and she turned her back to find a locker. Within seconds the porter had nicked her bag complete with passport, cash, medication, the lot.

And a week after we boarded that train there were bomb blasts right where we had been. Read more here.

Next week in – Part 2 – I will discuss food, shopping and the Golden Triangle and the following week in – Part 3 – I talk about temples, holy animals and the caste system.

Go to – My Holidays and Trips – at the top of this page to read about other places we have visited. Or just click on – this link.

One of these porters stole this woman’s bag minutes after I took this pic

 

Greece – Part 3

Greece – Part 3

Our accommodation in Santorini

A fortnight ago in – Part 1 – I spoke about Greece pre and post Euro and planning your trip. Last week in – Part 2 – I looked at vegetarian food and wine, scooter hire and getting about.

The sailing conditions for this holiday were either so-so or non existent. My husband was nervous of the Meltemi winds but we were lucky. We had to do a fair amount of motoring. Once we tied up at night we either went out to eat, have a drink, or we self catered on the boat.

Moored for lunch at Kokkinokastro

One memory I have is late at night, tied up in a little place called Steni Vala. The tavernas were closing up so I could hear bottles and plates clinking as the waiters tidied up. People were walking past the boats with their dogs chatting softly. The sound of the water splashing against the side of the boat and the creaking of the mast combined with the rocking of the boat was so soothing. We had our cabin open to see the stars. The smell of cooking and the sea was coming into the cabin. That is my idea of heaven.

Craft shop in Naxos

After a week of boating we returned the boat and took a ferry out to Naxos. My other half loves Naxos. He found his favourite place to stay – and that is where we stayed. We took walks along the beach, lazed in the sun – or shade for me, we ate right next to the sea and we drove our dead beat scooter all over the island – getting lost frequently. After a few days on Naxos we moved on to Ios and then Santorini.

Moored for the night at Steni Vala

Each island could not be more different in character. Naxos is laid back and very cool. There are nudie beaches and a relaxed attitude. Naxos is also an agricultural island and does not need tourism. Ios is a Jekyll and Hyde island. By day it is quiet and traditional. There are still shepherds herding the animals across the fields. By night drug popping people come out and party till sunrise. And Santorini is the movie star island. It’s famous, flashy and all about big boats, fast cars and being seen.

Ferry coming into Naxos

Beware of the people who flock to the buses and ferries touting rooms. They take you off the beaten path – round and round – until you have no idea where you are and then leave you in grotty accommodation. In Santorini we stayed in a very basic self catering home that belonged to a family. Sister came and serviced the place every day.

We had finished our sailing and island hopping and now it was back to Athens. Our last few days in Athens we decided to stick to the city and see as much of the ruins and museums as we could. Athens is a sprawling city. From the Acropolis it extends as far as the eye can see.

Ios island

Much like any capital city, Athens is heaving with camera clicking tourists, trashy souvenirs and inflated prices. But just like any other capital city, if you wander off the tourist map just a little bit and explore peripheral areas, you will find local people and affordable eateries. Which is what visiting a country is all about really.

Looking down on Athens from the Acropolis

See the other destinations we have traveled to in the Greenie archives by heading to the top of this page and clicking on – My holidays and Trips.

Greece – Part 2

Greece – Part 2

Red sand beach Santorini

Last week in – Part 1 –  I talk Greece pre and post Euro and planning your trip.

Ferry arriving at Syros island

I normally rant about limited food options for vegetarians. Not in Greece I’m pleased to say. I ate really well. My choices were Greek salad, big bean salad, side dishes of feta blocks, yummy olives, creamy salads such as Tzatziki and smoked aubergine dip, spinach and cheese filo pastry pies, stuffed tomatoes and stuffed peppers, cheesy aubergine bakes and dolmades. There are also lots of Turkish food places where I ate falafel. Greek salads in Greece are not the Greek salads I have had before. No lettuce in a Greek salad. Bread is consdered extra, just so you know. And do keep an eye on what you order, bills can get a bit out of hand when you order in bits and pieces and sadly, it does happen that un-ordered items find their way onto your bill.

Our hire boat Medussa

Retsina – a type of Greek wine – is awful. But after a glass or two a person gets used to it. You may want to visit one of their vineyards to get a proper bottle of wine. Wine tastings come with feta cheese and olives and are worth trying. The Greeks aren’t big on breakfasts. The most you will get is thick Greek yogurt with a drizzle of honey and a stiff coffee which leaves a thick sediment at the bottom of the cup. They do sell Nescafe for the English who usually don’t drink their coffee strong.

Shopping in Santorini

To get around you have to read Greek. All road signs, and they are not always present on the remote islands, are of course in Greek. The Greek alphabet is completely different to a European one with unique letters. Usually I can learn to say a few words in another language but I struggled with Greek. This is what the last two sentences would look like written in Greek – Συνήθως μπορώ να μάθετε να πω λίγα λόγια σε μια άλλη γλώσσα αλλά αγωνίστηκε με ελληνικά. Αυτό είναι που τα τελευταία δύο ποινές θα μοιάζουν με γραπτή στην Ελληνική
See what I mean? Fortunately most Greeks speak English.

We hired a little scooter which is easy and common in Greece and followed the coastal roads. We did get lost a few times but somehow we always made our way back to the accommodation. Be warned – some of these bikes are not in good condition or particularly powerful. A couple of times I had to get off and walk up a hill because the bike wouldn’t go. Accidents on these bikes are common. Here are links to maps  – Travel bookstore – and – map Greece.

Naxos beach

The first part of this holiday was a week of sailing around the Sporades Islands, next we did some island hopping in the south and we finished with a few days in Athens.

We arrived in Athens and headed straight to Skiathos for our boat. Due to mishaps and limited services it took a lot longer than we planned. When we finally reached our boat and bought provisions it was nearly midnight.

Enjoying retsina next to the ocean at Naxos

This was my first boating holiday ever and I was nervous. I had done a quick boat handlers course before this holiday just to make sure I had some idea what to expect. Fortunately my husband is an avid boatie and has done countless boating holidays both in Greece and other parts of the world. I could rely on him to know what to do. Novice sailors can sail in a flotilla where there is always someone on hand to help you with the tricky parts of sailing such as berthing, sorting out the sails, ropes and tying up your boat securely.

Next week in – Part 3 – I talk about sailing, the islands and Athens.

Relaxing on the boat at Mourtas

Go to – My Holidays and Trips – at the top of this page to read about other places we have visited. Or just click on – this link.

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