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Wordless Wednesday…

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India,1/4/18 :Trivandrum arrival and elephants, in the first hour…

We flew on the red-eye from Dubai to Trivandrum to start the South India trip. Luckily I slept for a short while on the plane.

Indian airports, at any time, are a rapid and fairly frantic introduction to local color, noise and antiquated bureaucracy. Early in the morning, after little sleep in the air, it’s a lesson in patience.

Our travel company, Magic Tours of India, had arranged our driver to meet us.

Outside in the huge crowd, I spotted a sign with my name.

Major relief, the plan was about to work. There is always a nervous moment when you spill out into the crowd and hope the plan has worked.

Bundled into the car, we headed off into Trivandrum.

We had made up our day’s schedule from online research. We knew we would be tired out after the flight, so desisted from planning too much culture on day one and had decided to head to Trivandrum zoo, where there was also a museum and gardens.

Down the road, suddenly we pulled over.

“Elephants,” the driver told us, “there is a religious procession”.

“Can I take photographs?” I asked.

“Of course”, he said.

Completely unprepared, the wrong lens on the camera, but I hurtled out into it all.

Wonderful, it was unexpected India at it’s very best.

I knew it would be a good trip…

S.India trip planned with Magic Tours of India : http://www.magictoursofindia.com

Thursday Doors,12/4/18. At Rameswaram, Tamil Nadu, India…

April 2018: A trip around South India.

From Dubai, we flew to Trivarundrum, visited the South West tip of India at Kanyakumari, crossed to the East coast via Tuticorin and arrived at Rameswaram.

Rameswaram is a town on Pamban Island, in the southeast Indian state of Tamil Nadu. It’s known for Ramanathaswamy Temple, a Hindu pilgrimage site with ornate corridors, huge sculpted pillars and sacred water tank.

It is also the closest large town to Sri Lanka, which lies across the channel from Danushkodi point. This channel is known as Adam’s bridge. We had previously visited Talaimannar in Sri Lanka and had got as close as we could to the point, but most of the area is fenced off as a Naval base.

Not so on the Indian side. It was fully accessible and full of visitors. As we had been to the Sri Lankan side, we just had to go to the Indian side!

But this post is about doors, not beaches and the doors were in town, so it’s back to town.

I found few worthy doors in the preceding towns but Rameswaram satisfied my door need.

India is so colorful, and this town was just such a blast of color.

Come and wander around with me…

Heading into town, towards the temple entrance…

The surrounding streets are full of little shops, brilliant color and roadside traders…

Heading down through the narrow streets for a sunset walk…

There was little lighting in these narrow streets. Although welcomed and greeted by most of the people who we passed by, it felt right to head back to our hotel before it became too dark. There was so much interesting life going on in these streets it was hard to tear myself away but a S.Indian dinner beckoned too…

Trip information:

Our visit to South India was inspired by our love of shells.

Visited: We flew Emirates from Dubai to Trivandrum, then drove onwards to Kovalam, Kanyakumari, Tuticorin, Rameswaram, Madurai and then flew to Chennai for two nights with a direct Emirates flight back to Dubai.

We used a company called Magic Tours of India  I highly recommend this company, professional, helpful, at the end of a phone at any time and the guides are excellent. ( I used them for walking tours in Pune in 2017 and was terribly impressed with the guide and the company) We booked our own flights and hotels and they provided car, driver plus guides for Temple and city tours in Madurai and Chennai.

A note here on the drivers, you need to understand that driving is their job, not guiding. Our driver for the S.India coast to Madurai was just lovely. He drove us so well, with great care and was a pleasure to be with. In Chennai, we also had a great guy, more chatty but it was possibly down to his command of English.

I felt safe and secure with both of them at their respective steering wheels.That is important for your comfort zone, traveling in India.

As it’s a similar cost to hire a car for self-drive or hire a car and driver, we went for car and driver option.

A good choice, we wouldn’t have known about cross-state taxes, certainly, some of the dual carriageway driving was interesting, I think you could call it four-way and some road junctions would have been heart stopping if we had been the drivers. Not under our own steam, there were fewer options to leap out for a photo-opportunity, but I managed to get those in the towns we did stop over in.This area is not covered by the company with guided walking tours, but they provided us with an itinerary that we could change as we wished and as we drove.

Again, I can’t recommend them enough, if you are thinking of an India trip, check them out. The prices are also extremely reasonable.

Hotels: I used Booking.com. I am entitled to genius discounts and every single hotel I chose offered this. The places I chose ranged from a “room only” at Kovalam to a 5* in Chennai. Every hotel was clean and comfortable and had air conditioning and fans (necessary). Those who offered food provided a superb range of S.Indian traditional foods.

It is mainly vegetarian in the South, but when you get seafood on the menu, it is well worth the choice. Breakfast in all the hotels, bar Chennai, had no choice, but an Indian breakfast. It is a slight step into the unknown, pondering a menu that is meaningless and the day ahead consists of a long car drive and no knowledge of whether there are any toilet facilities during the drive, but luckily in the hotels where breakfast was included, it was just brought to us, and, I have to say, it was delicious in every place.

If you are going to travel in this area, you need to embrace the local food. There are few western options.

Travel necessities for S.India :

Dress: Respectful dress and loose, cool clothing for both men and women. To visit temples and to wander around towns, bare shoulders and short attire are not recommended. I travel in hot climates with a set of shift dresses, sleeveless and on the knee. I always carry large and lightweight cotton pashmina shawls that can be adapted for head and shoulder covering. This time I carried loose leggings to slip on under my dress, but I only used them twice. Possibly my age helped avert adverse comment!

Mosquito spray: I read up that it was advised to take some, but never used it and didn’t get any bites. Maybe it was the time of year…

Loo Roll: Not everywhere provides paper, spray jets are used more. A most useful item!

Sunscreen: Yes, it’s a fierce sun, with little shade. Bring a sunscreen…

Immodium: Do not forget to pack this necessary little pill.You will not regret the purchase if you do need to take it…

PS: We found a lot of shells, both for sale and along shorelines on beaches!!

Linking with Thursday Doors, hosted by Norm Frampton. Pop on over and check out some more doors by clicking the blue frog link on his post…

Weekly Photo Challenge, 2017 favourites…

I’m running a day late on this challenge, blaming the holiday period for a break away from the computer.

The challenge asked us to consider this …

“Instead of a specific theme or topic, we invite you to share your most meaningful photo from 2017. This isn’t necessarily the “best” photo you’ve taken this year — feel free to post your most technically accomplished photo of the year if you’d like, but we equally encourage you to think about other parameters.

From the photo that generated the most reactions on your blog to the one that has the deepest emotional pull on you, define “favorite” in whatever way works best for you.” 

I take thousands of photographs, my 2017 files are hardly touched for filing and editing, but I know in my mind what is pertinent and where to find what I need and when I saw this challenge I moved back in my head to my India trip last February. My images from the Pune visit are still not fully edited, but I knew which photograph, out of all of them, sang out to me. I will never forget that car shot and the pride I caught amidst such poverty.

We were taking a car tour around Pune’s historical sights with a wonderful guide. We were tired, having arrived at 7.30am and hit the tour at 9am, no time to waste on a three day visit. Between sights we turned a corner and there was a whole living environment in a field on the road side with virtually nothing. I was shocked, but politically dismissed by our guide at first as it being normal, but then on questioning, understanding that the gypsy families come into the city to work in charcoal, nowhere to live, the outcasts. The caste system, whilst banned, still exists…. They had no possessions, but what you see here. Nothing more, they lived in the field, with so little.What you see here is what they had…

I caught the shot from the car as we turned the corner and headed off to the privileged and safe comfort of our hotel.

I haven’t forgotten, her pride and stature amidst the squalor made a mark on me, brought home the divide and it’s the one shot from 2017 I will never forget…car shot, on the road…

2017 Favorites

Monday Window: Shinde Chatri, Pune, India, 27/3/17…

During my tour of the history of Pune city, a visit was made to Shinde Chatri, a memorial to 18th-century military leader Mahadji Shinde.

The Anglo-Rajasthani style of construction has exquisite and detailed carvings and an imposing three-storey facade. Within the building is a temple dedicated to Lord Shiva. Photographs inside are forbidden, but I did snap one before I was advised of the rule and kindly admonished. Continue reading

Thursday Doors, at the Shaniwar Wada, 2/3/17…

Shaniwarwada (Śanivāravāḍā) is a historical fortification in the city of Pune in Maharashtra, India. Built in 1732, it was the seat of the Peshwas of the Maratha Empire until 1818, when the Peshwas lost control to the British East India Company after the Third Anglo-Maratha War. Following the rise of the Maratha Empire, the palace became the center of Indian politics in the 18th century.

The fort itself was largely destroyed in 1828 by an unexplained fire, but the surviving structures are now maintained as a tourist site.

As part of my walking tours in Pune, we visited this huge site within the city. Magnificent spiked doors command the entrance, the spikes were to repel elephants.As the sight is a big attraction in the city, it’s impossible to get a shot without people in it, however, the people give a great size comparison to these magnificent doors. Continue reading

Thursday Doors: Pune, India, streetside, 23/2/17…

Walking around the city streets of Pune, so many interesting doors to frame in my shots.

Streetside catches with some cheerful people happy to smile for my camera.

Much disrepair surrounding the streets, the buildings a throwback from the much earlier days of the city construction, but colorful, chaotic and teeming with life. Continue reading

A weekend in Pune, India, Part 1…

Pune, India, February 2017.

I arrived back from my first trip to India a week ago.

An opportunity for a visit with the Other Half, who had business meetings, the new Indian e-visa system allowed me to decide 4 days before the flight to jump at the chance.

Destination, Pune in the state of Maharashtra.

Considered to be the cultural capital of Maharashtra, Pune is also known as “Oxford of the East” due to the presence of several well-known educational institutions in the city. One of the fastest growing cities in India, the city is known for its manufacturing, automobile and IT research institutes.

Historically there is evidence of a settlement from around 858AD and during British rule in India (1818-1947) a large military cantonment was built. The city was known as Poona during British rule.

As the e-visa allows you to enter India via certain cities, our best connection was via Hyderabad. A late flight, a very long connection, but take note, Indian airport security is intense and three hours were needed to change from international arrivals to domestic departures, check in, pass security and we were left with 30 mins before departure.

Note to self, for future visits, patience and a long connection time is required.

As I had 2.5 days in which to maximise my Pune experience and not being terribly sure about wandering around town alone, I thought the best way would be to find a walking tour.

Very luckily Mr Google found me Pune Magic and within an hour of my first email I had a reply and duly booked a day car trip and a half day walking tour.

The day tour, with guide and driver titled “Pune, a journey through history”, was just that.

Having arrived with a quick Wiki-ed speed read about the city, our wonderful guide Mrs Daya, took us from the past to the present.

We had landed at 7.30am, having flown overnight, with snatched sleep on the plane, checked into the hotel, a quick wash and then downstairs to meet our no-nonsense guide.

Off we went in our air-conditioned car into a swirling maelstrom of morning traffic to our first destination. Somewhat jaded we sat back behind the glass barriers of our car windows and watched Pune wake up for work. Lane control doesn’t exist and it was a frantic introduction to India. Hordes throng the sidewalks, buses, lorries, cars, auto-rickshaws, bicycles, scooters and the cacophony of horns constantly blaring. I watched it all amazed.

Sidewalk sleepers, vendors, beggars, but all surrounded by such colour. From the sarees and blankets hung over fences, the vibrant orange and red flowers and the women, dressed in their gaily patterned sarees and kurtas, India swirled into my vision.

Leaving the madness of the road we went to the university area to see the Governor Generals mansion, which is within the university grounds. Pune is known as an academic centre, “The Oxford of the East” with emphasis on research. One of the largest banyan trees in the city is within the grounds and the grassy areas were full of students sitting in the shade. The rather majestic building that housed the Governor General was having repair work done to the outside walkways but gazing at it and imagining life in those days, it was easy to feel the colonial past.

Onwards to the British World War Cemetery, beautifully maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.The soldiers that died fighting for the Empire came from all denominations and countries. Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, Christians all are buried here together. Islamic epitaphs, the Star of David and a cross on each tombstone denotes religion and the ages range from 17 onwards. It is respectfully kept and a moving reminder to those soldiers who lost their lives. A tranquil place amidst the city madness.

Then a drive through richer and leafier parts of the city where homes are hidden behind high walls and security guards manage entry to the lives behind.

Amidst these tranquil streets, The Osho Meditation ashram is found. Strict security and photos are forbidden, so alas no pictures of an interesting view into the ashram watching the morning dance meditation.

Followers must wear long red robes whilst attending the ashram and for a while, we stood and watched the free expression dancing, the majority seemed to be white westerners.The bottom line is that it is an expensive place to be, karma or no karma. I was fascinated, there has been nothing like this in my life and having watched a tiny part, I don’t think there will need to be, but each to their own.

The ashram was made famous by its inceptor Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, who was an Indian Godman and leader of the Rajneesh movement.

During his lifetime he was viewed as a controversial mystic, guru, and spiritual teacher. In the 1960s he travelled throughout India as a public speaker and was a vocal critic of socialism, Mahatma Gandhi and Hindu religious orthodoxy. He advocated a more open attitude towards human sexuality, earning him the sobriquet “sex guru” in the Indian and later international press, although this attitude became more acceptable with time.

Mrs Daya had some interesting input and some wry and witty observations regarding our questions. We moved on from Osho, amused and enlightened.

The Aga Khan palace is a place of importance in Indian history. Built by Sultan Muhammed Shah Aga Khan III in 1892, it is one of the biggest landmarks in Indian history.

The palace was an act of charity by the Sultan who wanted to help the poor in the neighbouring areas of Pune, who were drastically hit by famine.

Mahatma Gandhi, his wife and secretary were held here under house arrest from 9 August 1942 to 6 May 1944 and his loyal wife, Kasturba Gandhi passed away here.

In 1969, Aga Khan Palace was donated to the Indian people by Aga Khan IV as a mark of respect to Gandhi and his philosophy. Today the palace houses a memorial for Gandhi where his ashes are kept.

This palace is also the headquarters of the Gandhi National Memorial Society. It was an Indian schools picnic day before the end of year, on our visit, so the grounds were filled with children and youngsters dressed up for the occasion.

Onwards to St Mary’s Church, Pune, built in 1825. The church was built to meet the spiritual needs of the British soldiers stationed in and around Pune. Nowadays it falls under the jurisdiction of the Church of North India and a 1,500 strong congregation worships there each Sunday. The memorial plaques on the church walls tell the tale of the British in India. “Succumbed to fever” and “Killed in action” feature against many memorials.

Then to Shinde Chhatri, a memorial to 18th-century military leader Mahadji Shinde.The Anglo-Rajasthani style of construction with exquisite and detailed carvings and an imposing three storey facade. Within the building is a temple dedicated to Lord Shiva.

Chhatri means umbrella in Marathi. As a sign of respect to the great warrior, visitors are required to close their umbrellas inside the premises, even if it is raining.

By this stage, my companions were flagging so we decided to take a slow drive, instead of a walk through the Shivaji Market area, a decision I regretted as soon as we started to drive through the small streets overhung by old houses and seeing the life outside my car window. But none of us had slept much in the last 24 hours and they had meetings, so, back to the JW Marriott, me for a shower and the Executive floor for a sunset drink and the workers to do big business, mine was the better option!

 

Visa:

India now has an e-visa system. For a British passport this works ok, but only for two trips in 12 months. It’s an online application, a little daunting as for some reason parental information is required ( even if you are 60), not 100% user-friendly, but have your passport to hand as you work through,  plus saved copies of a recent photo, in a reduced format that matches the upload requirement.

Flights:

International: Emirates to Hyderabad- 3 times daily. Hyderabad is one of the 16 entry airports in India that accepts the e-visa. The e-visa queue had us three in it, whereas the normal immigration channels were catering for at least 500 people. We got through very quickly but luggage waiting time was over an hour.

Internal:

 Outward: Jet Airways to Pune, 3-hour connecting time- needed. Interminable queues for security. Separate queues for men and women, so hang onto your boarding card if you are separated as it needs to be stamped for security. Lighters are forbidden and blue tooth earphones seemed to be an issue. Generally, a good idea to pack cables together in a plastic bag too otherwise they all get dragged out.

Inward: Air India to Hyderabad. Delayed, slightly tatty and the fastest turnaround and push back I have ever experienced. Faintly concerning but I’m sure the pilot knew his stuff, we arrived on time.

Hotel:

J.W.Marriott, Pune. Executive floor offered on check in for much less than the online booking rate. Well worth the extra, drinks and food included in the price, with extremely helpful staff. Airport pickup available.Driver and car can be arranged at short notice at the front desk. Gym, spa and swimming pool onsite.

Excellent breakfast, very comfortable room.

Trips:

Booked with Pune Magic, part of Magic Tours of India guide services.A 2-hour response to my initial mail, 3 days before departure, the trips booked on the same day.

My tour guide, Mrs Daya Sudama, who, (see Part two), spent a lot of time with me, was hugely knowledgeable, with dry and witty observations and after Day one knew what I wanted to see, negotiated good prices for me and really made my trip an utter pleasure.

I was hugely impressed with the service, tours and pricing from this company, there are no hidden costs, and a guide/driver gratuity is up to you. ( FYI, my recommendation is totally personal based on my highly enjoyable experience, this company has no idea of my sharing.)

 

 

 

Thursday Doors: Raj Bhavan, Pune, 16/2/17

Last weekend I ended up in Pune, India.

My very first trip to India, sadly only for three days and I now wonder why I hadn’t taken the India plunge far earlier. It’s easier now, with the advent of the Indian e-visa, but travel in India certainly needs some patience. Continue reading