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.
It’s now the turn of my second eldest grandson, Oskar,
already 14. The realisation that he was at “that” age (i.e.
ideal for taking on such a trip) only recently hit me, 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
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 our 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 has been arranged and prepared for over only the
past two months!
What We’ll Do
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 have 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
(it’s currently peak tourism season in India). We have flexibility after the
tour, so all the add-ons will take place then. Except we miss out on the canals of Kerala.
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
We spend a night at an airport hotel in Delhi and catch an
early morning flight next day from Delhi to Kochi – way down near the southern
tip of India. After a day there, we start 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; the along the Deccan Plateau with its 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 will then take an overnight train to Mumbai for
three days before flying back to Delhi for four days including a day trip to
As I did for Dylan (and for other tours), I have prepared
some guides for Oskar. My hope is 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 for
South India Trip.
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,
click on settings (the cog at bottom right of video screen) and select 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. I
suggest you follow the instructions set out for the movie above.
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
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
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.
Kochin, 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 took. Its heritage is clearly displayed in the number of Christian
churches, schools and hospitals. The best known id 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
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
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
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
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
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
All’s well that ends well; but it might have
been a very different exciting experience for Oskar had he stayed with the
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
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
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
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 (esp 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
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
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 Aus 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
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
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
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
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 ”apartments” 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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
Here is a Slide Show of the Tour