Sri Lanka

After 7 weeks of work with only one day off, it was finally time for my first trip of the new school year.

I had decided to visit Sri Lanka (only an hour and a half flight from Bangalore) to visit a collegue from TISB who had moved there at the beginning of this year. Getting out of India was harder than expected though, mainly because myself and my friend had forgotten our Resident Permits which are required to get back into the country (despite having employment visas in our passports.) This caused a problem at check-in and then again at passport control. Finally on the plane we realised that we had also forgotten to bring the contact details of our friend in Sri Lanka but didn’t worry too much because we would be able to get wifi at Colombo airport after we landed. It took us an hour to get through immigration and collect our bags before we were outside and ready to make contact. By the way, for anyone travelling through Columbo airport – they don’t have wifi!!

Whilst fending off well meaning taxi drivers a very kind lady asked if we were alright – we decided to take a chance and asked if she had a smart phone we could borrow, suprisingly she said yes to both! Now we knew his number and that we were to meet at a McDonalds near to his house. Unfortunately neither of us had a phone that worked outside of India but we jumped into the nearest taxi anyway and set off. The driver lent us his phone and we made the call, unfortunately there was no answer. During the hour’s drive we called 7 or 8 times all with no reply. At the McDonalds we sat down to enjoy an actual McDonalds BEEFburger and asked the manager if we could use a phone and finally made contact. Twenty minutes later (and ten minutes after they had closed but allowed us to stay inside and wait) Jon arrived in a tuktuk to collect us. We fell into bed that night ready to start exploring Colombo in the morning.

The next morning we took a tuktuk to a market that had recently been developed and was next to an area of parkland which was a very popular area to walk around.

From there we went to a local Buddhist temple. It was a truely peaceful place despite the number of people. We walked around the open area before going into the temple proper where a monk called us to one side and gave a blessing whilst tying a prayer string around our wrists. Afterwards we went outside to light a lamp and were met by a wall of flame. The small clay pots, which had a wick placed in them and were filled with coconut oil were arranged on metal racks and there must have been hundreds of them.

Having left the temple we took another tuktuk into the business centre of Columbo and too a walk along the sea front. We decided to stop at the Gall Face Hotel, one of the colonial hotel in Sri Lanka, for a quick drink.

After lunch, at a local restaurant, consisting of rice and curry (but in reality a lot more than it sounds) we made our way back home to enjoy a few drinks on the balcony before dinner and a few more after dinner. The view from the balcony was amazing – coconut trees and parrots within throwing distance.

The next morning we went out for breakfast and had a traditional Sri Lankan breakfast of string hoppers (a kind of rice noodle pancake) and chickpea curry. After breakfast we went to the temple where Jon had married his wife. It was a smaller temple than yesterday’s but equally beautiful and peaceful.

On a side note: when we returned to India, neither of us were asked to show our Resident Permits, the cause of so much trouble on the way out of the country!!


Indian Premier League

On 13th May I was invited to go to an IPL match between the Royal Challengers Bangalore and the Delhi Daredevils at the M. Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bangalore.

We were picked up at school and driven into Bangalore for dinner before making our way to the stadium. The first problem of the evening happened as we entered and found out that cameras were not allowed. Fortunately, despite the quick frisk at the gate, the camera in my pocket was not discovered. Nor was it noticed at the next two checkpoints. At the fourth, however, the guard asked me to empty my pockets, but again fortune was on my side as the senior guard told him to ignore it!

Our seats were in the fans’ terrace and came complete with free food and drinks tokens. We decided to skip the food and made our way straight to the bar for a drink before the game started.

Having taken our seats – and claimed our flags and clappers – we settled in to wait for the rain to pass – play was delayed by an hour.

Once the game started I discovered an entirely different way of watching cricket to anything that I have been used to. Instead of polite applause and the occasional Mexican wave, the game was accompanied by a an on-going disco set, ecstatic cheering at every wicket and 6 and more cheering every time a trumpet blast was played.

Delhi Daredevils won the toss and opted to field first. The Royal Challengers made a slow start but finally Yuvraj Singh hit 9 sixes in 2 overs to take the score to 186 for 4.

Delhi Daredevils went on to start well but only managed 170 runs.

Himalayas – Days 1, 2 & 3

Days 1 & 2

On 12th April, 4 students and 3 members of staff met at the front of school to take a bus to Bangalore airport – it was the beginning of a very long journey to start the Gold Expedition of the International Award for Young People.

The first set back of the trip happened at airport security when I got stopped and asked about the pair of scissors in my hand luggage. After 10minutes of searching and having my bag emptied and re-scanned twice they eventually found a very small pair of scissors in my first aid kit, that I didn’t even realise were in there. After a lot of apologies (and embarrassment as the students were standing round watching) we made it through to the departure lounge.

A two and a half hour flight took us to Delhi airport where we were met by a minibus and taken to the Hotel Gautam where we had lunch and a couple of hours to prepare for the forthcoming bus ride. The sleeper bus left Delhi at 6:30 that evening and we began the very long journey to Manali in the foothills of the Indian Himalayas We stopped about three hours outside of Delhi for dinner and then carried on with the journey. After a couple more stops closer to our destination the sun started to come up and we got our first views of the Himalayas, eventually reaching Manali at 10:30 – a mere 16 hours after leaving Delhi! It took longer to do the 550km bus ride than to fly from Heathrow to Bangalore!

We were taken by minibus to our campsite (at 2000m) where we met our two guides, cook and camp staff and getting our first meal. After lunch we discussed our itinery and decided to postpone the acclimatisation hike to the next day due to wet weather. Instead we walked to the Hibimda Temple nearby and then down into Manali for an hour or so to have a look in the shops. On our return to camp we had dinner and by 8:30 everyone was in tents and ready for a good night’s sleep.

Day 3

We awoke at the break of dawn to a crisp morning and a beautifully clear, blue sky and as the sun came up over the mountains and reached our campsite it also turned out to be a very warm morning.

After breakfast we got our day bags together for our postponed acclimatisation hike. This took us further up the mountainside on which we were camping. We walked past waterfalls, through pine forests and after a couple of hours took a short break sitting astride a large boulder on the edge of the mountain.

A slightly steeper climb took us into the snow at 2500m where Tom and I introduced our two Korean and two Indian students (as well as our guides) to the art of the snowball fight. This may have been slightly unfair as we didn’t exactly explain the concept before launching a volley of snowballs at them, but they eventually got the idea.

We returned to base camp for lunch and spent a lazy afternoon playing cards and chatting before dinner and another early night.

Himalayas – Day 4

Day 4

After another early morning with tea served to our tents, we packed up all of our kit and carried our bags down to the van so that they could be transported to our next campsite. That done we set off to Solang Village with just our day bags.

The trek started with a steep walk down to the valley floor before setting off on an ever winding uphill walk to Solang. The views as we climbed were fantastic – mountains, waterfalls, trickling streams and rushing rivers (fed by the melting snow.)

After a few hours we walked through a village that was like something from another world. Home made water mills were powered by snow water rushing through the main ‘road,’ goats, sheep and cows wandered freely through the downstairs of the houses and the houses themselves looked very ramshackle – plus most of them had a satellite dish!!!

Just outside the village we stopped at a stream to refill water bottles and tasted the most refreshing water I have ever drunk. The final challenge of the day’s trekking was to cross the River Beas (but this time on foot!) Whilst the water was flowing quickly there were plenty of large boulders that meant it was possible to use them as stepping stones.

A short walk later took us to camp at 2312m where we found the tents already set up, our bags in our tents and lunch ready to eat. On our way into the campsite we picked up a dog that Tom named Fluffy, she joined us for a lot of the time except when she went away to check on her puppy that Tom named Little Fluffy!

That afternoon Tom and I went into the village for a walk and found out that the nearest bar was in the next village – Manali – from where we had just walked!! On the way back to camp we picked up another two dogs that became known as Deefa and Barky.

Himalayas – Days 5, 6

Day 5

Woke up very early today, mainly due to one of our new found canine friends. It was this morning that Barky was named, after keeping everyone awake for most the night by barking madly at anything that moved. As Tom and I crawled out of our tent we discovered that Deefa had slept pressed right up against the front of our tent, sheltering from the overnight rain. We had another great breakfast, before setting out for the day’s trek. We were heading up Anjani Manhadev towards a Shiva linga (a shrine to Shiva.)

Most of this trek was on snow and involved crossing a lot of streams on our way, some by very wobbly wooden bridges. The climb took us to around 2400m and we were shown the final path to the Shiva linga. This particular Shiva linga is made of snow and attracted the interest of a local holy man. As a religious site one could not wear shoes for the final stretch – as that final stretch was over snow, none of us were particularly willing to visit. Instead we went into the nearby temple that had been set up in honour of the original holy man.

Whilst waiting to go inside a couple of the group decided to have a go at skiing. his was a very different experience to anything that I have seen in Europe. For a start the boots were one size fits anyone who wants a go, secondly the guy renting the skis held on to the skier and ran along the very shallow slope with them!

Meanwhile Tom, myself and one of the students went inside the temple. When we came back out two of the students had built a snowman, which Tom proceeded to carry back down the mountain.

As we started our descent to a boulder field the rain and snow started to close in and the guides decided that it would be safer to head straight back to camp.

That afternoon Tom and I headed back out in the rain to Solang village to sit in a dry, if not warm, building to have a bite to eat and a drink at the Italian Pizza Hut. When we got back the students had woken up and decided to use a discarded CD to try and decapitate Snowy. When they had managed that a game of spade ball started, including the camp helpers who were with us.

Day 6

Woke up early again after a fairly bad night’s sleep, thanks to Barky’s efforts as our guard dog!

After breakfast we packed up camp and watched as the guides and helpers loaded all but our day bags onto the mules. As they were finishing we set off on a short hike to our next camp site on the Peer Panjal mountain range. We crossed the River Beas yet again, as well as several small streams, as we made our way up the opposite side of the valley to campsite number 3.

When we arrived, and after clearing some of the snow, we set up camp at 2553m just on the snow line. As we were setting up camp Barky kept up his efforts to defend us from anything that came near. Unfortunately this time it was crows that he was scaring off and they very soon worked out that Barky wasn’t the cleverest of dogs, they kept flying low to the ground as he chased them then swooping upwards. Once or twice they flew over the edge of a rather steep drop and Barky flung himself after them with all limbs spread!

Very soon it started to rain and the rest of the day was spent in the dining tent and our tents trying to stay day and warm up.

Sidenote – Bathroom facilities

The toilet facilities were not the most luxurious. At the campsite in Solang and the day 6 campsite we had a single toilet tent erected over a very basic ‘Indian squat toilet.’ The name kind of gives the detail!! On the bright side – it had an amazing view.

Himalayas – Day 7

Day 7

After another relatively sleepless night – thanks to the cold and Barky’s continued efforts to guard the campsite – we prepared for the biggest trek of the expedition. This was to be the highest point that we would reach near the top of Patalshu Peak.

The trek started off with a very steep uphill route then became steeper and covered in very deep snow. In some places the snow nearest the ground had melted leaving patches of thin snow covering nothing. Tom managed to fall through one of these holes and ended up dangling waist deep with his feet still not touching the bottom. Barky had worn himself out overnight, but we were still accompanied all the way up by Deefa.

At 3000m we stopped for a break and were given the option of turning round or continuing upwards for another 30minutes. Three of us decided that we wanted to carry on but the rest didn’t want to, so as we carried on they waited patiently on the mountainside.

This was the steepest part of the trek yet, at one point I was standing upright and could touch the ground at the same time by putting my arms straight out! After half an hour’s walking we reached 3125m and reluctantly had to turn around, even though the peak of the mountain was only another 40minutes away.

Whilst the walk up the mountain was a long, hard slog the journey down was much more fun. The easiest way was to run, made all the more interesting by the deep snow and steep slopes. On the particularly steep sections where running would not have been safe most opted for the sit and slide approach, which was fun but left trousers full of snow!

Over the couple of hundred metres it started to drizzle, so on our return to camp we decided to have lunch and retrace our steps of the day before to return to Solang. As we left camp, Barky decided that he had found another group of campers to terrorise/guard, but Deefa was loyal to the end and followed us all the way back to the minibus. From Solang we loaded our kit into the minibus and returned to basecamp at Manali.

That afternoon Tom and I took a walk into Manali and visited our favourite restaurant in the town ‘Chopsticks.’ On the way down we took the opportunity to buy a couple of the local style hat.

Himalayas – Days 8, 9 & 10

Day 8

We awoke to a beautiful sight this morning as there had been a light dusting of snow through the night and the whole campsite was covered in a fine layer of snow as the sun came up.

After breakfast we made our way to the minibus for a trip out to the village of Vashist in order to see the hot springs. At the top of the village was a temple and, after removing our shoes and socks at the door, we walked through to find the open air stone baths fed by the hot spring. Once in we quickly stripped down to boxer shorts and lowered ourselves into the steaming water. It was the warmest I had been since leaving Delhi (and also the first wash of anything more than hands and face!) It didn’t take long for us to become local celebrities, being pulled over to one side of the bath with everyone else as cameras were produced and photos taken! Just as we got out and were drying off our tour guide leant over the wall from the street and told us that there was another spring bath just up the road that we should try. Tom and I quickly wrapped towels around ourselves and walked out through the temple and up the street (still barefoot) to find them. This bath was completely open to the street, separated only by a metal bar fence, and was even hotter. On getting out I was bright red and steam was literally pouring off me. Feeling thoroughly refreshed we walked back down to the minibus.

After the baths we had a guided tour of the Atal Bihari Vajpayee Institute of Mountaineering and Allied Sports Museum in Manali, which showcased the evolution of climbing and mountaineering equipment through the years. Several of the staff who work at the institute have reached the summit of Everest.

That afternoon, after lunch, Tom and I took the students down into Manali to kill a couple of hours and we made yet another visit to Chopsticks.

Dinner that evening was the local speciality of trout, which had a very distinctive taste.

Day 9

On our final morning at basecamp we packed up early and spent the morning relaxing at camp until lunch and then carried our bags down to the van before spending a last couple of hours browsing the shops in Manali.

At 4:45pm we set off on the overnight bus for another long and, thankfully, uneventful drive back to Delhi.

Day 10

We arrived in Delhi 14 and a half hours after leaving Manali and after spending an hour in the hotel, ventured out for breakfast. The rest of the day was spent lying on a comfortable bed or standing under a hot shower trying to feel human again! After a short delay to our flight back to Bangalore we eventually got back to school at 10pm.

20/20 World Cup Final

This evening was the final of the T20 World Cup final between India and Sri Lanka.

I’d been invited by the students to watch the game in JBIH ( the boarding house for Grades 6 – 8.) The biggest surprise was that they had been told they had to watch the match without talking!! After dinner I moved to the senior boys’ boarding house to do my evening supervision duty – which involved watching the end of the match.

The thing I was most impressed with this evening was at the beginning of the match every student stood, without being told to, for the national anthem and even sang along.

The thing that most surprised me was that when I arrived on the Grade 10 floor for duty the TV was showing the English Premier League – in India, surrounded by Indian students; they were more interested in watching Liverpool play than their own country compete in the final of a world cup!!! I decided very quickly that I was going to do my duty on the floor below where the cricket was on TV.

Probably the least surprising thing was that the cable channel stopped working for ten minutes mid way through the match.

Hampi – Day 2

We decided to have another early start (although not quite as early as Saturday’s) as there was still a lot we wanted to do.

We were back in Hampi by 8:45 and mad our way back to Virupaksha temple to meet our guide for the morning.

Hampi is divided into two key areas – the temple area and the royal area. We began with a tour of the Virupaksha temple and our guide pointed out a rather explicit carving from the Karma Sutra on the corner of the tower. Apparently there are such carvings in every Hindu temple in order to distract the evil eye so that everything else in the temple can remain pure. He also pointed out the metal girders that support the entrance through the main tower. These date from when Hampi was rediscovered by the British in 1888 and if you look carefully you can see the words ‘Middlesborough, England’ stamped onto them. The final feature of the temple that stands out is the statue of the three headed cow –  the only one of its kind in India. It represents the ‘vehicle’ of Shiva. The three heads represent that Shiva is part of the Hindu trinity along with Brahma and Vishnu.

We then collected our bicycles and set of in the already 30° heat and as soon as we met our first uphill stretch got off and pushed! At the top of the short hill was a temple dedicated to Ganesha housing one of the largest statues of him in India. The statue was hewn from a boulder and the temple constructed around it, the pillars supporting the porch of the temple depicting images of the various incarnations of the Hindu trinity as well as the obligatory Karma Sutra images. The statue was completed enclosed by the temple and reserved purely for use by the royal family.

A short way on and we saw another giant statue of Ganesha, this time in an open sided temple for public use.

Our next stop was the Krishna temple which was adorned with many carvings. The Hindu tradition is that you wash before entering a temple, but if this is not possible there is often flowing water across the temple’s entrance so that you wash your feet as you enter. At the Krishna temple there is a carving of the Goddess Ganga on the left of the entrance and the Goddess Saraswati on the right – these goddesses represent the River Ganges and the River Sarasvati, thus by walking between them one symbolically washes one’s feet. Inside are yet more carvings from the Karma Sutra as well a balustrade representing seven animals in one.

From here, we made our way to the Lakshmi Narasimha temple – home to Hampi’s largest statue. It is of one of the incarnations of Vishnu (half man, half lion,) and is surrounded by monkeys. Next to it is a small temple which houses a Hindu fertility symbol.

The final stop on our tour of the sacred centre was at the underground temple, which is another royal temple that is still being excavated.

Our final stop was the royal centre of Hampi. The Queen’s bath was a palace built over a pool (now only the pool remains) in which the Queen and her ladies could swim and cool down. The Lotus Palace, was another palace in the ladies’ area (guarded by watch towers that were manned by eunuchs.) It had a series of pipes running through the roof that created an early air conditioning system. The final stop in the royal quarter was the elephant stables – home to the King’s elephants. Afterwards we stopped for a drink and I got a phone call from the car hire company asking when we would be returning the car. I’d booked it until 11pm but they wanted it back t 4pm, after a long and heated ‘discussion they agreed on 8pm. We cycled back to our starting point and, since it was downhill most of the way, had to deal with our bikes’ main fault – a complete lack of brakes!!

Having returned the bikes we set of on another entertaining drive to get back home. We saw more crashed lorries, ridiculous overtaking (a lorry overtaking another lorry, uphill at a maximum speed of 20 kph!) and possibly the worst bit of driving I’ve seen anywhere in the world. A driver, who was clearly running low on fuel overshot the exit on the highway for the petrol station. He stopped in the middle lane before deciding to move forwards and exit the highway via the entrance ramp. Fortunately the motorway was empty at the time, unfortunately the driver in question was Tom and caused me to fear ever so slightly for my life!!!

After we’d pulled of the final stretch of highway we had to negotiate our way through the villages back to Whitefield. Tom was driving again as we met with a major religious festival that involved the very narrow streets being completely blocked with people, vehicles and animals.

Hampi – Day 1

One of the places that I’ve really wanted to visit since I’ve been in India is Hampi, so this weekend Tom and I hired a car a set off on a road trip. The main downside is that Hampi is a 405km and seven hour drive away and, because of boarding duty on a Friday night, we couldn’t leave until Saturday morning. That meant that our time was very limited.

So, on Saturday we drove out of school as quietly as we could at 3:30am and started the long trip to Hampi. Apart from a couple of easily corrected wrong turns we had a very good journey and both quickly got into the Indian style of driving, particularly during the final 140km stretch. This was along a two lane road which was heaving with lorries. After a while neither of us thought anything about pulling out from behind a lorry and overtaking two or three at a time, whilst facing an oncoming truck, before pulling back in.

Eventually we reached Hospet, where our hotel was, and checked in. Both of us were surprised at the quality of the hotel – it was the best that either of us had stayed in whilst travelling in India! We had  a quick lunch and set out on the short drive to Hampi itself.

Once there we made our way to the Virupaksha temple where, according to Hindu mythology, Shiva opened his third eye in order to kill a demon. While there we visited the Government Tourist Office and arranged a bicycle tour of the religious and royal areas of Hampi for the next day.

From the temple we made our way to the river to wait for a boat to take us across. After all 23 passengers had boarded the very small boat we set of on the short crossing. It says a lot that one guy who decided to swim the river, made it to the other side before us! Once on the other side we set off to the Hanuman temple (also know as the monkey temple), where it is believed that the monkey god Lord Hanuman was born.

On the way there we asked directions and found out it was 5km away, also there were no rickshaws or taxis until the main road (1.5km away.) The lady we asked offered to call her son who would be able to rent some scooters to us at cost of Rs. 150 for the bike plus another Rs. 100 for a 1.5l of fuel. It took him five minutes to get there and after a 30 second introduction as to how the scooter worked and a two minute test drive up and down a patch of dirt, we were on our way. It was the first time either of us had ridden anything with two wheels other than a push bike!

After the 570 step climb, all of which were steep and uneven, we arrived at the small whitewashed temple and found no monkeys at the top. A walk across the boulder strewn mountain top led us to some amazing views over the valley. As we were walking we heard chanting drifting through the air, eventually we discovered a small cave with a group of priests in prayer. It really was a magical moment – listening to the eerily haunting sound of Hindu prayer chanting whilst enjoying the view below.

Eventually we dragged ourselves away and made our way back down the hill to ride on the the Laxshmi Temple down the road. On our way down we noticed the monkeys gathering above us. At the bottom we sat down for a drink and realised how relaxed the monkeys were around people. One was hand fed by the owner of the café and another was sitting on a parked bicycle.

When we got back to the river crossing, we had a longer than expected wait as the boat engine would not start. 20 minutes later we were underway and soon back in our air conditioned car on the way to our hotel, a beer (or two) and the pool.