Mysore – Feb 2015

After 5 weeks of work and only one day off (including a 3 day weekend where I worked every day) we finally had a whole two days off. To celebrate a group of us went to Mysore.

We collected the hire car on Thursday evening and as soon as we could get away from school on Friday afternoon four of us hit the road – all with very different plans of what to do when we got there. The 4 hour drive started leisurely enough on the village route out of Bangalore and towards NICE Road, coming off at the Mysore Road junction it wasn’t long before we stopped at a roadside restaurant for dinner.

The journey after dinner was somewhat more nerve-wracking – mainly due to the fact it was dark by then and a lot of the cars, trucks and lorries try to save their battery life by not bothering with unneccassary things like headlamps. This combined with police barriers creating chicanes as well as speed humps along the dual carriageway all looming up at us out of the dark led to a few frightening moments!!

All was forgotten as we arrived at the hotel – the outside looked impressive even at night. The Lalitha Mahal Palace was built in 1921 by the Maharaja of Mysore for a visit by the then Viceroy of India and subsequently was used for all visiting European guests. It is the second largest palace in Mysore, after the Maharaja’s own palace.

Having checked in and been taken to our rooms, we decided that the next obvious port of call was the hotel bar for a few G&Ts before bed.

The next morning, after breakfast on the terrace, James and Corinne went sight seeing around Mysore. Meanwhile Helen and I spent the day lying by the pool, swimming to cool off and drinking. This pretty much summed up the rest of the day and most of the next!

On the second morning we took a walk around the hotel before returning to our posts at the pool, where we spent the rest of the morning before returning to Bangalore – relaxed, refreshed and ready for another week at work.

Sri Lanka (the second time)

With another full weekend off work the question arose of where to go. Thanks to a friend of a colleague (who had just qualified as a PADI Instructor, who was now living in Sri Lanka,) I decided to take a trip with Helen (my colleague) to visit her friend (Nic.)

An easy evening’s flight and pre-booked taxi ride took us to Unawatuna on the south coast of Sri Lanka. Having dropped our bags in our room we headed out for a drink, at the bar next door to our hotel. Early the next morning we were greeted by this as the view from our hotel room.

After a quick breakfast we walked to the dive centre, which turned out to be the same place as the bar from the previous evening. Leaving Helen on the beach, our first dive of the day was Rangoon Wreck a very nice wreck teeming with wildlife and home to a large Moray. After the return boat trip and a few cups of tea we set out on the boat for the second dive of the day to Reef Wreck (not actually a wreck!) It was a long shallowish dive over a rocky sea bed covered in coral and also crowded with life.

Two good dives later we changed and set off for lunch on the beach at The Bludge Corner where we had fantastic beef burgers. The only downside was that it was a Poya day. This is a monthly religious festival for Buddhists that celebrates the full moon, the day is marked by visiting the temple for religious observances and also by not serving any alcohol! Anywhere!!

Nonetheless we enjoyed a very pleasant fruit juice with our burgers before getting a tuk-tuk in to Galle, the neighbouring town. In Galle we went shopping for a fan (for Nic’s apartment) and then made our way to the fort for a walk along the town walls. Despite our efforts every bar and restaurant that we visited was very devout and therefore unable to sell as any alcohol. Not only would they not sell it to us but neither would they: give us free beers in return for a generous donation or accidentally leave the beer fridge open and turn their backs.

Having returned to the hotel to get changed, we set off to find somewhere for dinner. A few hundred yards along the road from the hotel Helen spotted a hotel that looked like an option. They were offering a fish barbeque that evening and we quickly decided to stay. Our decision to stay proved to be very much the right one, when I glanced at a table on the other side of the restaurant and saw, against all expectations, two bottles of beer! I pointed them out to Nic and Helen at the same time as calling the waiter over. He returned quickly with three large bottles of beer and we began to relax properly. After dinner, and accompanied by more beers, Helen began practising a few basic dive skills – on dry land, with no kit. When she mentioned that she wanted to take her Open Water course I willingly offered the cert to Nic!

The next morning we went for a late breakfast (with cocktails) then went for lunch and drinks at The Bludge Corner.

Amritsar

For the Dasara break we decided to go to the Punjab and in particular focus our trip on Amritsar, although we stayed in Tarn Taran nearby.

On our first evening there we walked to the local Gudwara – which has the largest Sarovar (water pond) in the world. The temple itself was very busy but the walk around the pond was very peaceful, despite being joined by a group asking who we were, where we were from and why we were visiting Tarn Taran.

The next  morning we headed into Amritsar with our hosts who knew some people at the Golden Temple. Fortunately this meant that we could skip the incredibly long cue and enter via the exit. The Golden Temple, despite being one of the holiest places in the Sikh religion, proved to be an ‘interesting’ place. Once we had made our way inside, we were greeted by the sight of a holy man pushing paper money offerings through a grill in the floor using a wide flat blade. There was something of a scrum to get anywhere near the front of the crowd.

Once we had made our way through the actual temple we took a walk around the Sarovar which, like the one in Tarn Tarun allowed bathing for ritual cleansing. This involved men bathing in their underwear and women being afforded the privacy of bathing chambers.

Following our walk around the temple we went for lunch in the Langar hall, which provides lunch for up to 10,000 people per day.

That afternoon we went to the Wagah Border but unfortunately, due to the huge crowds, we were unable to get within a couple of kilometers. We turned back and made our way home. On the way home we passed the beginnings of the celebrations for Dassara. The huge huge figures would later be set alight.

The next morning we went into Jallianwala Bagh, the scene of one of the lowest moments in the history of the British Empire. On 13th April 1919 a huge group of non violent protestors met in the gardens of Jallianwala Bagh in response to recent events. British soldiers entered the area at the upper end of the gardens and opened fire indiscriminately. Official figures put the death toll at around 380 while others put it at just over 1,000.

Walking around the gardens, that have been preserved as a memorial, was very moving. Bullet holes were still visible in the walls and the Matyrs’ Well (a well into which 120 people threw themselves to avoid being shot) was particularly poignant as a curfew was enforced after dark meaning that no survivors could be helped.

That evening we made another attempt to visit the Wagah Border between India and Pakistan. I have honestly never known anything like it. The crowd that pushed towards the border for the daily flag lowering ceremony was immense and we spent a very long time in the middle of it shuffeling forwards to the security checks. We eventually came to sign indicating a route for foreign visitors and managed to make our way past the crowd to an area of reserved seating.

When we arrived we saw the ‘warm-up act’ of children running with the Indian flag towards the border and back again. As the ceremony approached the excitement from the crowd built as they were led in patriotic chants – equivalent chants could be heard on the other side of the border from the Pakistan side. We had been joined by a group of Indian nuns who were chanting louder and more passionately than most! The ceremony itself is almost indescribable. Soldiers in full dress uniform from both sides of the border marching at double speed, stamping, shouting and a lot of posturing combined with loud drumming and the constant shouts and chants of thousands of spectators created an amazing atmosphere. And this happens every single evening throughout the year.

The whole ceremony was one of highly choreographed, flamboyant military precision with both countries working closely together to present it. However, it must be remembered that there is still a lot of animosity between the two countries. If you look to the left of hoto 10 above you can see two heavily armed soldiers standing face to face. These did not move for the whole of the ceremony.

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.