How It Came About
This trip crept up on me quite quickly!
In 2010-2011, I took my eldest grandson, Dylan, then 13, to India, Nepal and Bhutan. It was (I trust) a trip of a lifetime for him – at least then; and still.
Late in 2013, I realised it was the turn of my second eldest grandson, Oskar, who had just turned 14. So it was a rapid look into suitable options. They didn’t have to include motorcycling. But they did need to include somewhere different and challenging – culturally, linguistically, historically etc. The Subcontinent fits that bill to perfection.
As it turned out, Extreme Bike Tours, with whom I travelled across the Himalayas in North India and across the Tibetan Plateau have a tour of South India that occurs during the summer school holidays. Perfect! That’ll provide all the adventure of a motorcycle trip, visit interesting (and enjoyable) places and allow the opportunity to explore other sights and sites in India, for example, the Mughal monuments of Delhi and Agra as well as the bustle and attractions of Mumbai.
The trip was arranged and prepared for over the next two months!
Ideally, I would have preferred to undertake the add-ons (Delhi, Agra, Mumbai – and the canals of Kerala) before the bike tour. However, Extreme Bike Tours had negotiated with Air India, who recently started direct flights between Australia and India, to package their tours with flights and thus provide a very significant saving to the client. This arrangement dictated the earliest we could fly, which was the day before the motorcycle tour starts. We had flexibility after the tour, so all the add-ons took place then.
Air India’s new flight is on the Boeing 787 – the Dreamliner. It’s a non-stop flight of 12½ hours from Sydney to Delhi. An international flight in itself would be a great novelty for Oskar. A 12½ flight will be something again!
We spent a night at an airport hotel in Delhi and caught an early morning flight next day from Delhi to Kochi – way down near the southern tip of India. After a day there, we started the ride: first westwards into the Western Ghats Mountain Range of tea plantations, rugged and steep valleys, national parks and nature reserves including tiger Reserves, remnants of ancient kingdoms and some of the most spectacular temples of India; then back to the coast riding through Goa and staying over at a few beach resorts along the Goan coast.
Oskar and I then took an overnight train to Mumbai for three days before flying back to Delhi for four days including a day trip to Agra.
As I did for Dylan (and for other tours), I prepared some guides for Oskar. My hope was that, at age 14, he will be equipped to absorb and benefit from the enormous wealth of cultural and historical diversity he will encounter.
Here is the rough guide I prepared for him: Oskar's Guide
Because of the significance of the Mughal architecture and history (constituting the most popular tourist attractions in Delhi and Agra), I have tried to prepare him for the ‘Mughal Experience’ with this effort: The Mughal Empire of India.
Map of the Motorcycle Tour
Here is a map of the motorcycle tour. You might like to cross-reference it with the Guide above. You can also zoom in and out on the map and change it between map and satellite modes.
View South India in a larger map
Movies of the Tour
Here is my "official" movie of the tour: once it starts, you can click on settings (the cog at bottom right of video screen) and make sure it’s on 720HD. Then watch it in full screen. Hope you enjoy it.
Here is another one more focussed on Oskar, which I put together after getting some additional video clips from Extreme Bike Tours. .
Daily Blogs of the Tour
I have taken a different approach to writing up the South India tour than I have with other tours. Previously, I have edited the daily blogs into an integrated story. This time (to save time and reduce stress!), I have simply posted the daily blogs as they were written at the time.
Journey to New Delhi
New Delhi, 11 Jan 2014
It’s been a long day. Oskar surprised me by rising of his own accord at 3:45am, having duly set and responded to his i-pod alarm. The taxi arrived on time at 4:30. That was a relief having to have booked it entirely by phone prompts. The bus had most of its passengers already aboard by the time we arrived at about 4:50 in what I thought provided a generous ten-minute margin before departure.
The bus trip was 3 hours – about 15 minutes quicker than scheduled. The plane was delayed by 30 minutes owing to its late arrival from Melbourne (and presumably from Delhi into Melbourne). However, all stages happened without incident.
Oskar managed well. In addition to getting up and dressed on time, he was ready for the taxi, coped well with the bus trip, filled in his own departure card and even had an hour or so by himself wandering the departure terminal while I coped with the nightmare of getting a sales tax refund on some recently bought items I was taking with me.
He did very well on the plane: 12½ hours of it! His time alternated between movies and games on the flight system, games and music on his i-pod, full-on Indian lunch and supper, cokes and taking in the view from his widow seat: and a bit of dozing.
Getting out of the airport at Delhi gave me an initial taste of the vagaries of travel: all the currency-change counters were closed for “shift change.” The first ATM we tried didn’t want to know me. Fortunately, the next one worked! Then there was the hassling of taxi touts. We organised a pre-paid taxi but it was still a challenge to work out who were genuine taxi drivers that wanted the job (a relatively small one) and who were self-appointed ‘organisers’.
The hotel, in keeping with the modest tariff, had scruffy surrounds, which seemed to have immediately coloured Oskar’s view of Delhi. It was dark; and it would be dark when we leave next morning. I’m sure his impression of Delhi will change when we return for several days later in the tour.
Kochi, 12 Jan 2014
Having got up at 3:45am for the second morning in a row, he headed back to the airport in the dark for an early morning flight to Kochi, which even the airport terminal still addressed as “Cochin”- the former colonial name of the city.
This is the place that housed, with whatever misgivings, the first European settlements in India: first the Portuguese, then the Dutch and then the British. The “old town” (not that it’s called that) is called Fort Kochi (not that there’s a fort there anymore). It’s the area where the first settlements were established. Its heritage is clearly displayed in the number of Christian churches, schools and hospitals. The best-known is probably the church of St Francis, which Oskar and I visited. It was the first Christian church in India (built by the Portuguese) and the place where Vasco de Gama was buried for several years before his remains were taken back to Lisbon.
Our hotel is right in the centre of Fort Kochi. Once checked into the hotel, Oskar and I set out for a wander before we were due to meet up with all the group for lunch. We ended up taking a tuk-tuk tour of a few key sights for an hour: temples, spice shop, the Dutch Palace (now an archaeological museum).
After lunch was a trial run on the bikes riding round a nearby sports ground. After that, Oskar and I made our own way back via St Francis Church and the coastal promenade.
13 Jan 2014
It was an early departure this morning: 8.00am – to get out of town before the heaviest traffic built up. This would be Oskar’s first foray into Indian traffic. In fact, his first experience of Indian road travel apart from a couple of short taxi rides.
The ride out of Kochi was tame by Indian city standards – the benefit of a relatively early start. That didn’t have us escape a few novel experiences of coping with traffic moving both ways, a few deep each way at times on a narrow single carriage road. At one stage we experienced some slight wobble on the bike but I put it down to the very scarred stretch of bitumen we were on at the time. As it turned out we were getting a quickly deflating tyre. Fortunately we were near the front of the group so could pull over and get everyone to stop (rather than have some proceed and wonder why no one was following!).
Out of town, the traffic thinned for stretches along country roads but quickly thickened as we passed through several towns. It was in one of these towns that half of us missed a corner marker and the group split into two. Those of us left adrift found our own way to Munnar and managed to arrive an hour and a half before our tour leader and the other half of the group.
The road to Munnar took us across mostly flat countryside for quite a while before we started the climb to Munnar – a Hill Station: centres established by the British as retreats from the oppressing summer heat of the lower plains. Munnar is about 1600 m above sea level. Kochi is at sea level – so it was a significant climb of twisting roads and decreasing temperatures.
Despite the late lunch for some of us and the much later arrival of the rest of the group, we still had the planned option of a ride to “Top Station” – the highest point of the ranges. Oskar opted out. He was still very tired from three very early rises so it seemed a good idea for him to retire to bed, which he readily did. Just as well. While the ride was great, we ended up getting back well after dark, coming a down tightly winding road with only Royal Enfield headlights to guide us.
14 Jan 2014
The ride today had us climb our winding way through the spectacular tea plantations sprawled over steep, angular slopes interconnecting for as far as the eye could see. The road through the plantations was narrow and winding, neither of which deterred the frequency of buses and trucks competing with the legion of tourist vehicles. Both passing and – more so – overtaking posed challenges and risks which Oskar took in his stride (I think).
Having climbed to the top of this range – all part of the Western Ghats - we then had a long descent on a badly maintained road with several landslides half-blocking stretches of the road.
Then a great, fast (well, for Royal Enfields) run across more low-lying plains, reaching speeds of up to 90kph!
Turning of the highway we were on to follow the signs to Kodaikanal, we embarked on a 50km uninterrupted road of continuous, rhythmical turns to the Hill Station of Kodaikanal. Oskar thought this was a highlight and had him comment that he would have liked to be riding his dirt bike.
About half way up, we stopped for a breather and refreshments of coconut water and some coconut flesh (only when you’d finished the water). Oskar got through the water but fed the flesh to the scores of monkeys frolicking in the over-hanging trees. He was quite fascinated by their antics.
Bandipur Tiger Reserve
15 Jan 2014
We knew the ride from Kodai to our ‘resort and spa’ in the Bandipur Tiger Reserve would be long; but it turned out a lot more than anyone expected.
We got away by 9.00am. Getting out of Kodai, being one of the hill stations, meant a long, winding road back down to the plains. That part was straight forward and fun for riders and Oskar. Once down from the hill stations, of course, means back to the hotter clime of the plains, even though it’s winter.
Our next major centre was Ooty, known as Queen of the hill stations. But before we could even start the climb up to Ooty, there were a few hours of crossing the plains on a mix of secondary and highway roads.
By now Oskar had acquired a taste for coconut water and was eager for the stops we made to grab some coconuts along the road side. The ride took us through several towns of varying sizes, each time allowing us to hone our skills of weaving, squeezing, stopping, starting as vehicles and pedestrians came unexpectedly from all angles.
By the time we stopped for lunch (after the mandatory chai stop and a few coconut stops) it was already the middle of the afternoon. This was Oskar’s second exposure to the South Indian favourite of a thali: a mix of curries and other assorted dishes. This time we had the more traditional way of serving it – having the different components dished out on a banana leaf in front of you. Utensils are definitely optional (Oskar observed at one stage that he was the only one in the restaurant using a spoon, but even that soon changed!).
It had been a hot and tiring day by now; and Oskar opted for a stint in the support vehicle with Vijay and Khan. It was just as well. We were in the middle of the Pongal festival (see below) and, once we reached the start of the long climb up to Ooty, we met a load of traffic heading up the range and a similar load coming down. This demanded a lot of attention to traffic and a lot of overtaking in difficult situations (with risk-taking levels creeping up to new heights!).
It was a slow run up to Ooty – another factor delaying our overall arrival at our final destination of Bandipur Tiger Reserve. By the time we got to Ooty it was late into evening dusk. The town spills over a few rises at the top of the range and was shrouded in smoky haze, with the inevitable chill of the hill station being well felt.
Here’s where the plan started to come really unstuck. The road we needed to get to Bandipur was blocked for larger vehicles (e.g. our support vehicle) that were not local. It seems the motive was that all but locals were not to be trusted negotiating the 36 tight hairpin bends that dropped you steeply onto the plain below. We hung around in Ooty for 40 minutes or so while negotiations were undertaken to get clearance for the support vehicle. In the meantime, we were given a briefing on the risks of the hairpin turns (past experience had been that brakes and clutches get easily overheated and become ineffective with too much use). It was by now quite dark. So the rest of the trip – down the hairpins and across the flats through national park and reserve country of elephants and roaming nocturnal cats like leopards – would be in total darkness!
Enter Oskar. Having heard the briefing, he said he would like to get back on the bike. I suggested that it would be safer for him to stay with the support vehicle given the dangers ahead of riding such a difficult stretch in the dark. That seemed to make him all the more insistent. So it was back on the bike.
All the left-hand bends were not only very sharp hairpins but had a steep drop to them. Negotiating them with frequent high beam headlights of cars, trucks and the occasional bus coming at you was a totally new form of ‘fun’. Having a tail light of a bike in front helped. But after a re-group stop at a convenient spot about a third of the way down, we ended up dropping back to last in the line apart from one of the local staff, Chandan, riding as tail end Charlie. On one of the left turns, the bike in front went a bit wide, startled by the lights of a truck right at the turn, and wisely got quickly across the front of the vehicle ending up on its side in the verge on the other side of the road (luckily there was a verge, which mostly didn’t exist). We stopped; and Oscar was quick to get off the back and across the road to check on the rider, Peter, with Chandan who was also quickly on the scene. Fortunately, Peter was fine: just a tad shaken. We got the bike upright and back on the road.
The forlorn Peter, probably more mortified than anything else, set off slowly and cautiously. By the time Oskar and I got mounted and started there were no taillights in sight. Chandan stayed with his bike waiting for the support vehicle. Oskar and I set off to continue the run down the hairpins quite alone.
A subsequent regroup stop revealed more bad news. The support vehicle had been stopped by somewhat angry locals who felt they were above the police authority for the vehicle to proceed. We were to hear later that it all got very complex, to put it mildly. Meanwhile a vehicle coming up the range stopped to see if we were okay. The driver asked where we were headed. I told him Bandipur, to which he admonished that the park gate shuts at 9.00pm and we would not get through after that, adding that this was elephant country – even where we were parked – and it would not be wise to dally anywhere.
Fortunately Rahul (mechanic extraordinaire and assistant to Vijay) turned up on a bike with instructions that we were to follow him poste haste for the rest of the trip to Bandipur.
Even from the bottom of the escarpment, which was a relief to reach, it was a long ride through thickly jungled terrain before we reached our accommodation in the Bandipur Tiger Reserve. It was 9.00pm. We had been on the road for 12 hours!
It was another 10 hours before we got our luggage and a further three hours before the support vehicle turned up. Zander (our tour leader) had transferred the luggage to a taxi truck of some sort, found some nearby accommodation (getting to which a leopard amble across the road in front of him), and set out as soon as the gate was open in the morning. The support vehicle had to return to Ooty and proceed to Bandipur in the morning via a longer route.
All’s well that ends well; but it might have been a very different exciting experience for Oskar had he stayed with the support vehicle!
Bandipur Tiger Reserve (2)
16 Jan 2014
We had a rest day at the Bandipur Tiger Reserve. The resort was laid out in a series of dupex cottage-style rooms with linking stone paths and lots of trees often with monkeys hovering and exploring. Spotted deer lurked in the scrub at the back of the cottages. Elephants were heard one night close by. Resort rules were that no one stepped outside their rooms after 10.30pm (presumably that’s when the guards retired).
It was a lazy day: a guided trek for about an hour in the morning (lots of spoor but only spotted deer to be seen); a swim and poolside read for some; and a three hour motorised safari into the far reaches of the reserve in the late afternoon/early evening: lots more chital (spotted deer), monkeys of a different variety than those around the resort, wild boar, a fleeting glimpse of a gaur (pron gower to rhyme with flower) – Indian bison, and, to top it off, a leopard. It’s pretty rare to see a leopard and ours was a little way off ambling along the track ahead of us. But at least you got to appreciate how it wanders around in its natural habitat. The tigers remained hidden.
17 Jan 2014
It was back on the bike today for a half day run to Mysore, called the city of palaces, the centrepiece of which is the spectacular Mysore Palace.
The palace was the official residence of the former royal family – the Wodeyar family. The Kingdom of Mysore was ruled for hundreds of years by the Wodeyar Dynasty, the “king” being the Maharaja of Mysore.
The kingdom as such has long gone, as have all the many empires and kingdoms that constituted Hindustan. The palace is maintained and controlled by the State Government of Karnataka. However, a small portion of the palace has been set aside for the Wodeyars to live in. The royal family has no official status and certainly no power as such, but old habits die hard; and the royal family is obviously afforded some informal status and respect.
The interior of the palace was a true marvel. Its halls, rooms and decorations were a match for its exterior.
The palace grounds and gardens catered for tourists with camel and elephant rides. The latter appealed to Oskar so we launched into it.
18 Jan 2014
From the night time descent we made from Ooty – down the 36 hairpin bends in pitch dark – a few days back, we have been on a plateau that stretches between the Western Ghats, which we climbed up and over in the first few days, and the Eastern Ghats. So the rides, such as this one to Hassan, have been mostly flatish with occasional rises and dips.
The key feature of today’s ride was toe visit to a one thousand year old Jain Temple planted on top of a hill visible for miles in every direction. It houses the tallest monolithic statue of Bahubali (I think a Jain deity but I’ll have to check that out). The climb to the top was via over 300 stairs, hewn into the rock. Oskar bounded up as though he’s overdosed on Red Bull or something!
The view from the top was pretty amazing. The descent for Oskar was made easier by sliding down the steel pipe hand rails.
Hassan itself was a dusty grotty looking town. Its claim to fame seems to be is central location for several ancient and treasured temples reflecting the glorious past of kingdoms such as the Hoysala Kingdom that ruled over much of this part of India.
Turtle Bay Resort
19 Jan 2014
From Hassan we were headed back to the west coast of India and the Arabian Sea. Being on a plateau, we didn’t have much of a climb back into the Western Ghats, but a long, winding descent down the escarpment to the coastal plain.
Before we did that we stopped at the small town of Belur – the location of a complex of temples that most spectacularly capture the past glory of the Hoysala Kingdom. The main temple was built in the 1100s and displays intricate carvings that are almost unbelievable given the era, tools and time it must have taken to accomplish.
The run down the escarpment was another episode of enjoyable motorcycling for both rider and pillion.
The goal at the end of the ride was Turtle Bay Resort. We rode into it with the sun setting over the Arabian Sea. This was the first time that Oskar has seen the sun setting, although it took a bit of explaining to him that his was so. It was the first time one of the mechanics had seen the sea! The resort was right on the beach front. Not a bad spot….and to top it off (especially for Oskar) we were each allocated a separate beach cottage – since all contained only queen size beds. Oskar thought that was neat: no granddad to pester him. To his great credit, he got himself up next morning, got dressed in his gear, packed his case, got it to the back-up vehicle and got to breakfast by the scheduled time of 7:30 – all with no help or even checking from granddad.
South Goa: Colva
20 Jan 2014
We rode up the coast today, flitting in and out of view of the Arabian Sea, but always with the smell of fish pervading the air. There were fishing boats on the beach at Turtle Bay putting out early in the morning; and seemingly lots of similar activity all the way up the coast.
Turtle Bay is in the State of Karnataka and it was a few hours before we crossed the State border into Goa. Once there, a few things started to stand out: congested towns, more casual, young foreign tourists (this used to be Hippie Central a few decades back), and lots of Christian (presumably mostly Catholic) establishments (churches, schools, hospitals) – remember this was where the Portuguese first set up shop in India.
We have two nights here so the real experience if South Goa is yet to come. In the meantime, Oskar took full advantage of the pool at out resort accommodation. And why not since out room opened onto it!
South Goa: Agonda
21 Jan 2014
Today was a “rest day” – meaning we spend two nights at Colva. However, one of South Goa’s special spots is Agonda Beach, so we made a day’s trip there.
That meant backtracking south for some 50km, including going back through the large and bustling centre of Margao. Agonda was quite a way off the highway but at the end of an enjoyable partially twisting road in good condition (apart from the very rough last kilometre to the beach).
The beach was in a large bay, a wide sandy stretch lined by coconut trees camouflaging hotels, beach huts, eateries and traders’ stalls of various sorts. The Arabian Sea is fairly calm and a pleasant temperature. Oskar must have had about five or six sessions in the water.
Lunch was at a classy establishment right on the beach – as seemingly are all the accommodation and eatery places. Oskar’s choice was calamari for starters followed by King Fish fillets and chocolate brownie. That’s with a cocoloco mocktail somewhere in there.
There were any number of cats and kittens ready to help out with lunch; and the establishment stray dog who demanded precedence over the impatient felines.
Inevitably, the beach was shared with foreign tourists (relatively few) and a local bullock.
One might not normally think of India as a place for the ideal beach holiday, but if you’re looking for an idyllic beach setting with a Mediterranean-style beach – and a quite peaceful, relaxing atmosphere (for a fraction of the price for most comparable places), Agonda Beach must be a candidate.
North Goa: Calangute
22 Jan 2014
The dreaded day: the last day of riding. It was a short run from Colva in South Goa to Calangute in North Goa. The dividing line is the capital of Goa – Panaji – which we skirted on the run to Calangute.
First stop was our hotel in Calangute to drop off luggage and grab some more suitable clothing for a visit to the weekly flea market, which has a Goan wide reputation as something if an institution.
We then rode further north to Zander’s home to leave the bikes for servicing before being trucked back to Kochi for the next tour. After chai at Zander’s, we dumped our motorcycle gear there and took taxis to a nearby restaurant…well, except for Zander and Oskar who rode on Zander’s “chopper”- an old royal Enfield.
After that it was a visit to the Wednesday flea market – a wide-spread, busy and bustling array of all sorts of stalls with lots of bars and restaurants mingling amongst them.
Oskar had changed his Australian dollars for rupees this morning so was ready if hesitant to start shopping. His fear was the need to haggle. He got through the first purchase with a lot of help. But for next couple he was on his own and managed very well.
A Day in Calangute
23 Jan 2014
We started today not knowing how long we would have in Calangute or how we would bet to our next destination of Mumbai
We had a paid booking on the Konkan Kanya Express due to stop at Thivim (the nearby station) at 6:55pm and arrive in Mumbai at 6:00am next morning. The trouble was that we were waitlisted as opposed to confirmed. Our initial waitlisted numbers were 2 and 3 so I had been hopeful that we might have had confirmed bookings well before our travel date. However, every time I checked our status on the IR website, nothing changed. Even on travel day itself, we were still waitlisted 2 and 3. Informal advice of unquantifiable reliability was that we would have a pretty good chance of getting on the train. The obvious fall-back option was to scrap the train and book a flight. On discovering there was a late evening flight that had vacancies, we opted to take our chances with the train knowing that we would have time to get from the station to the airport if need be.
With that decision behind us, we could plan our day in Calangute. Having fare-welled the rest of the group, most of whom who set off for planes out of Goa to wherever, we decided to check out the local beach, which was about a 20min walk from the hotel. The walk itself was an attraction with its dusty streets, small shops and restaurants and bars galore and the inevitable bustle of people and traffic.
The beach was a stark contrast to Agonda Beach where we had recently spent a day. While Agonda was relatively isolated and accessible only with some effort, catering almost exclusively to the mainly foreign clients of the local hotels, Calangute Beach was immediately accessible to a large population centre as well as the many domestic tourists who come to Goa at this time of year from the much colder north of India. The beach was more like a Sydney suburban beach on a weekend complete with attentive life guards and the familiar red and yellow flags; whereas Agonda had been more like an unpatrolled NSW South Coast beach mid-week.
Oskar was undeterred by the crowds and made the most of the few hours we had to spend there.
We had a late check out at the hotel; and were also anxious to get to the station earlier than we would have done so with confirmed tickets.
Train from Thivim to Mumbai
24 Jan 2014
Thivim (pron and spelt by other than IR tivim) is the closest station to the beach towns of North Goa. It was about a 40-min taxi ride from Calangute.
We took the precaution of heading to the station early because of our still only waitlisted status. Having got to the top of the window queue at 4:15pm, the attendant checked our ticket reference number and advised that “the chart has not yet been drawn up.” The ‘chart’ is the manifest of passengers. One needs to be on the manifest to get on the train. The attendant called us back to the window at about 5:00pm to tell us that we were confirmed. A few minutes later he posted the manifest on the station notice board; and it was a further relief to see our names on it.
Although we were in first class (we also had second class tickets waitlisted at 10 and 11; but these didn’t make the manifest!), the train was an older one that clearly showed its age. Oskar wasn’t that impressed that this was first class! At least we were allocated the only 2 berth compartment.
With the irresponsibility of grandparenthood, I sent him off to explore moving between carriages and introduced him to the special treat of watching the night go by from the open door of the carriage. Eventually, we ordered some dinner – duly delivered to our compartment and finally bedded down for a night of rocking and alternating between speeding along and stopping and starting.
We arrived in pitch dark at 6:00, found our way out of the huge station complex and into a taxi. We were both a little incredulous on arrival at the hotel. You had to walk down a drive, find a lone lift down a corridor and alight at the 5th floor. We checked in without fuss and were taken to the 4th floor to our tiny, narrow-bedded room. By now Oskar had obviously come to assume that hotels were all of a certain standard. His immediate judgement of ours in Mumbai was ‘dodgy.’ It was really just a little different. Very Islamic: staff, dress, TV etc. The azzan is playing on the TV as I type, having interrupted a US sitcom dubbed in Arabic.
We opted to hit the sack straight up and dozed for a few hours before ordering some breakfast and getting ready for our first day in Mumbai.
25 Jan 2014
It was a late start venturing into Mumbai. We had the hotel booked for the night prior to our arrival so had access immediately. We both slept for a few hours. Ten some in-house breakfast and out and about.
Right outside our hotel and stretching up the street for several blocks were the Colaba markets – stalls on the footpath complementing the shops and combining to make a crowded, jostling crowd of onlookers, buyers and passers-by. We must have walked that stretch several times, with lots of looking and a few purchases.
Along the street were a couple of very popular restaurants, including the somewhat famous Leopold’s, which has a long history as a place of meeting of everyone of note who has visited Bombay or Mumbai. We dined there. (Leopold’s status was such that it was the first target attacked in the bombings that also attacked the Taj Hotel and the Victoria terminus in 2008.)
The main event for us in Mumbai was a tour of the Dharavi Slum – or, simply Dharavi, as the locals prefer to call it.
The tour commenced by dropping into a viewing spot overlooking the Dhobi Ghat – a vast area of concrete-walled washing ponds where thousands of workers wash and dry Mumbai’s laundry every day: from hospitals, hotels, and any and every other source.
Next was a drive through Mumbai’s most notorious red light district. I had to explain to Oskar what a red light district was.
The walk through Dharavi – India’s and possibly Asia’s largest slum area – was a three hour eye-opening and revealing experience. We walked first through the industrial section, where many cottage industries were recycling waste plastic, used paint and oil drums, aluminium and other metals, and other odds and ends. There were also textile sections that made, dyed and whatever with clothes of various sorts, all of which were then sent to distributors to have their labels sewn on for sale.
In the residential section, we walked through the narrowest alleyways imaginable glancing into the “arpartments” of the residents who occupied spaces of 6 square metres with families of up to 7 or 8 people. There were separated Muslim, Hindu and Christian sectors, although seemingly all mingled at markets and eating places. The Muslim sector had a much higher occupancy per residence than the Hindus because of the formers rejection of birth control.
Within or on the fringes of the residential section, women and their daughters were rolling out and drying papadums that were then sent to the manufacturers for distribution throughout Mumbai.
27 Jan 2014
Our arrival yesterday (26th) into Delhi by early morning plane from Mumbai (a 3.00am wake up for us) was greeted by thick fog that didn’t rise until the middle of the day. Our day was further hindered by it being India’s national Republic Day, so lots of blocked roads and an unexpectedly closed Red Fort.
The day wasn’t helped by Oskar’s losing his phone in the melee around the fort’s outside perimeter. We spent a couple of hours dealing with police reports: that was an experience in itself.
With a much upset Oskar, we ventured into the heart of Old Delhi and found a a McDonald’s there that helped sooth the pain.
By then it was middle afternoon, so we settled on a short tuk-tuk trip to the Jama Masjid and spent some time admiring its structure and vastness; as well as climbing to the top of one of its minarets. Jama Masjid simply means Friday Mosque. The uniqueness about this particular mosque is that it was built by the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan, who also built the Red Fort and, more to his fame, the Taj Mahal. Its courtyard can hold 25,000 worshippers; and, we were told, regularly does.
There’s much that could be said about the monuments we will visit in Delhi and Agra. However, most of it already recorded on other pages of my site, mostly here. Partly for that reason and partly because of shortage of time, I’ll stay very brief about the places we visit. The interested readers can readily refer to the other pages.
From Jama Masjid we did a bit more wandering through Old Delhi before exposing Oskar to the Delhi Metro. I did hear him at one stage utter “I can’t breathe” as he disappeared temporarily from sight in the crush of passengers.
Next day was a full-on Delhi day. Our first destination was the Old Fort – the Purana Qila. This was the centre of Delhi at the time of the second Mughal Emperor, Humayun. Built long before the Red Fort. It’s where Humayun fell down the stairs of his library/observatory and died – less than a year after we recaptured the fort (and Delhi and his empire) following his loss of everything several years earlier.
Humayun’s Tomb is nearby, so that was next on the agenda.
We started the day on the Metro, but abandoned it at the first of two transit stations where we had to change Metro lines. The platform was so jam-packed that it was obvious we would be waiting for the third of fourth train to get on. We found an obliging (and undoubtedly delighted) taxi driver whom we hired for the rest of the day to take us to all our destinations, wait for us at each and eventually take us back to our hotel.
After a late lunch, we headed to the far south of Delhi to visit the Qutb Minar complex. This was Delhi long before the Mughals. It was the centre of Delhi under the Hindu King who was defeated by invading armies from Today’s Afghanistan who first established Muslim kingdoms in India; and ruled there for some 300 years before being defeated in turn by the Arrival of the Mughals.
You can read more about Qutb here.
28 Jan 2014
Another early morning for us to catch the 6.00am train to Agra – a two-hour trip on the Shatabdi Express, India’s fastest train.
We had a day’s tour booked, so were picked up at the station by car and guide exclusively for us. It was straight to the Taj Mahal making a visit there in the early morning very peaceful and enjoyable before the later day crowds built up. It’s my fourth visit to the Taj in the past seven years, but it’s never lessened its seduction. It’s such a marvel to see and feel.
Close by the Taj is the Agra Fort, where Shah Jahan spent the last eight years of his life under house arrest by his ambitious son, spending his time in a small but elaborate palace with an unending view of his Taj Mahal, which, of course, housed his much beloved wife. It was in her memory and as her mausoleum that he had built the Taj Mahal.
The fort predated the Mughals but it was Akbar who substantially built what is there today – a massive red stone structure. Elaborate palaces inside the fort were added by Akbar’s son and grandson (the latter being Shah Jahan).
The afternoon was spent visiting Fatephur Sikri about 40km (an hour’s drive) from Agra. For possibly a couple of reasons, The Mughal Emperor Akbar built the city to replace Agra as his capital. It was a grand city enclosed by a 11km wall; but he abandoned it after only 14 years in favour of the more strategically located Lahore. It became a ghost city.
The day was interspersed with the unavoidable stops to see demonstrations of the art of setting semiprecious stones into marble (an overwhelming aspect of the Taj’s architecture); carpet weaving and embroidery.
Back on the Shatabdi Express at 8:35pm for arrival into Delhi at 10:40pm.
Back to Delhi
30 Jan 2014
Yesterday (29 Jan) would be our last full day in India. The main item on our agenda was the Red Fort. We had made an attempt to visit it at the start of our sojourn in Delhi but had been frustrated by the Republic Day holiday.
We went there by tuk tuk and spent a few hours wandering round this most splendid monument built by Shah Jahan (of Taj Mahal fame) as the centrepiece of his new capital. It was late afternoon by the time we got there and mildly chilly, so we didn’t tarry too long. However, we got to spend time at the key land marks; and re-lived the grandeur of the emperor’s public audience hall and private quarters etc. Oskar made good use of the bazaar in the Lahore Gate for some last minute shopping.
You can find more details on the red fort on my Delhi page.
Next morning, it was on the Air India flight for the 12-hour non-stop flight back to Sydney, followed by a 3½ hour bus ride to Canberra. Oskar was greeted by very anxious and welcoming parents and brother.
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Here is a slide show of the tour