A Travellerspoint blog

January 2011

Tea and a Pee at the Taj

Majestic Mumbai

sunny 32 °C

In a city teeming with slum-dwellers and street people it seems insensitive, even downright obscene, for visitors to pay up to four-thousand-dollars a night to stay at The Taj Hotel, so we only went for tea and a pee. Here’s Sheila enjoying a cup of White Darjeeling – the world’s most expensive blend…
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We only had tea, (and a pee) at the Taj, but it interesting to note that a couple of cups cost us two and a half times as much as our entire dinner at a lowlier joint around the corner.
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The Taj Hotel, built in 1903 by Jamsedji Tata, a Parsee, (the Zoroastrians who fled Persia in the 7th century to escape Muslim persecution), stands as a lasting memorial to the terrorism that rocked this city in 2008, and just as we had no desire to be constantly reminded of that dreadful event; neither had we a macabre voyeuristic interest in the millions of poor who struggle to subsist in the teeming slums and panhandle on the city’s rough streets. However, it is impossible to escape either. No tour of this enormous city would be complete without a visit to the Gateway of India, built to commemorate the visit of King George V in 1911, which became a focal point for the legions of press covering the terrorist attack…
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…or to the Oberoi Hotel, the Victoria Railway Station or the Leopold Café, which all came under attack…
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And it is impossible to ignore the grinding poverty on the streets of this city. The average income in Mumbai is four times the national average, which means that a city worker may receive a whopping four-thousand dollars a year. However, millions still live in the most depressing slums imaginable and it is inconceivable that they will ever escape.
On the plus side – Mumbai has a wealth of magnificent colonel-era buildings, like the Prince of Wales Museum...
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…and The Mumbai University – designed by Sir Gilbert Scott who designed St. Pancras Station in London…
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Mumbai is a truly vast city with a population exceeding 18 million, which means that we have seen only a fraction of it. However, if today’s papers can be believed, the city is about to shrink. Corrupt building practices are rife here, (though all kinds of corruption is rife), but, under pressure from the courts and public opinion, the city government has ordered the demolition of all illegal buildings. This means that more than 300 highrise tower blocks would have to come down – any bets on that actually happening?
Now, for those of you envying us our months of warm sunshine - You should know that The Times of India today reported that Mumbai is in the grip of one of the coldest winters on record. Nighttime temperatures have plummeted to a distinctly chilling low of 15 degrees, while daytime highs have barely crept above 32 degrees... Brrr!

Posted by Hawkson 07:35 Archived in India Comments (4)

Readers' Haikus

Bombay 18th January 2011

sunny 34 °C

Congratulations to the winners of the Washday Haikus competition. We judged all the entries to be winners. So, Dori, Gabriole, Harvey and Roy, pack up your smalls and send them to us, Poste Restante, at Varanasi Post Office. We bet you can't wait to see what they'll look like once they've been washed in the Ganges!

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Beside the water
winter sun bleaches hard work.
Colours lay tranquil
Gabriole

prostrating over
lithe, green riverbank grasses
laundry prays to sun.
Dori

a brown river flows
laundry kisses green shrubs
covering steep slopes
Harvey

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Long lines of laundry
Watching shadows they whisper
Where are you going?
Gabriole

strung out on fenceline
clean bright colours of laundry
salute passersby.
Dori

a scatter of clothes
saris and kurtas salwars
colour the back yard
Harvey

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Mountain wind wonders
So much fabric to capture
gravel is waiting
Gabriole

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Red and white and pink.
Fern adorned with women’s work.
Beauty, not grime, relief.
Roy

green leaves embracing
Patchworked in bits of linen
The wind is silent
Gabriole

hankies and dainties
airing on the side of caution
a laundry bouquet.
Dori

Posted by Hawkson 06:00 Archived in India Comments (3)

Your Camel Awaits, Sir...

sunny 32 °C

After four days sightseeing amongst the hippies in historical Hampi, we’ve returned to Goa for a final dip in the Arabian Sea before zipping off to Mumbai, (Bombay). However, before we take you on a tour of one of the world’s most populated and poverty ridden cities, we thought we’d give you a peek at our unusual Hampi home...
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Here’s the pool…
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This is the Vijayshree Resort - a 17 acre Rajasthani theme park on the fertile Deccan Plateau near Hampi. However, Hampi is one of the greatest cultural treasures of this country, (despite the shocking neglect and abuse of its numerous historical monuments), so the idea of creating a piece of Rajasthani desert here, complete with forty-five traditionally styled luxury cottages, appears somewhat bizarre. What is even more bizarre are the two giant front-end loaders parked outside the reception lobby…
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But the peculiarities of this 5 star resort don’t end at the reception desk. Whoever heard of a vegetarian, non-smoking, alcohol-free holiday resort? Welcome to India – where religion, caste and ethnicity dominate all aspects of life. This resort is owned by a Rajasthani industrialist who believes that everyone should be Hindu just like him, (and every visitor should buy one of his enormous earthmovers), so we had to conform. (although we didn’t buy an earthmover). But we were we well looked after - this guy would run out with a parasol whenever he saw us walking by…
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And when a small light bulb blew in our cottage seven men arrived to fix it. One took out the broken bulb, inspected it and, after several minutes huddling with his "team", removed the entire light fixture and replaced it with a brand new one – now that’s what we call service?
But what about this for showbiz? Whenever we needed transport to and from the dining room all we had to do was call reception and within minutes a camel cart would be waiting at our front door…
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Posted by Hawkson 20:36 Archived in India Comments (3)

Dispatch from Hampi

Mysore, India. January 16th Anno Domini 1800

sunny 33 °C

Hampi, the capital of ancient Vijayanagara in the 14th century, (and the capital of Hippy India since the 1960s), is a place of legends. According to the Ramayana it is the mythical birthplace of Shree Hanuman, the Monkey god, while, according to many flower children, it is the best place for a toke in the entire sub-continent. However, as we walked by the side of the Tungabadra river we found ourselves in the footsteps of Colonel Colin Mackenzie, Surveyor General of India, who stumbled across this ruined city in 1800, and we mused over the kind of dispatch he may have written to his paymasters in London.


My Dear Sirs;
It gives me much pleasure to report the discovery of an ancient, though sadly ruined, great city which, it seems, was once the capital of the region known as Vijayanagara. Firstly I must tell you of the wondrous scene that greeted us when we arrived with our camel train…
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At first sight it seemed as if the Lord God himself had taken umbrage with the landscape; in every direction lay strewn such a great jumble of rocks and boulders that initially it appeared we might not find a passage…
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Then, to our intense surprise, nay – delight, we noted that many of the monolithic formations had structure to them…
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Imagine our glee when we discovered that a great city had once stood here on the Deccan Plateau just a few hundred years past, and that ruins of great temples lay off in every direction for many leagues…
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Though none of the artifacts demonstrate the sophistication of European ecclesiastical works of the same, or even earlier, centuries, the ruins represent the very heights of the sub-continent’s architecture. It would seem that Budhists, Muslims and Hindus all built temples here between the 14th and 16th centuries. However, many of the extant structures are related to 16th century royalty. There are great elephant stables where the ruler’s beasts were stalled…
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There is a delightful little Palace within a walled garden where, I am led to believe, the King kept his harem. And the concubines had their own bathhouse…
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However, these once magnificent structures are in a sorry state today, with many of the great temples being utilised as squalid habitation for peasants and their animals…
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Whilst others are considered so worthless that visiting pilgrims use them as staging posts to cross the river…
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I will report further upon my findings, but I fear that unless immediate steps are undertaken to preserve these artifacts from further desecration they will be lost to future generations.
I remain, Sir, your obedient servant:
Col. C. Mackenzie. British East Indies Co.

Posted by Hawkson 00:56 Archived in India Comments (1)

Go Goa

sunny 31 °C

As we pause for a few days rest in the seaside resort of Betalbatim, we’ve joined a rat-race of northerners who’ve jumped their ice-bound ships to bask under the Goan sun – and who can blame them? At home it may be damp, chilly and grey, while here the world sparkles. The golden beaches, fringed with coconut palms, slope gently into a warm aquamarine ocean…
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Traditional fishermen in ancient proas chase shadowy shoals across a landscape of shimmering emerald...
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And the glittering sun shines from breakfast to tea until it eventually tires and turns vermillion as it sinks into the Arabian Sea…
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It is easy to see why Goa is one of the most popular holiday spots in the world, but on reading the travel guides we had visions of a non-stop party hotspot – an Indian Ibiza or Cabo San Lucas with oodles of booze and pot. But that’s not here in Betalbatim. This part of southern Goa is more like Worthing – most of the holidaymakers are lumpy white wrinklies who gave up hard partying years ago and are now happy with a stroll along the beach at sunset before going to the restaurant to karaoke along with Cliff Richard’s Summer Holiday and a medley of the latest hits from Peter, Paul and Mary.
Here’s some typical Brits at the beach – complete with plastic flyswatters brought all the way from Blighty...
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Foreign tourists have been bringing suitcases of cash here for decades but it’s difficult to see where it’s all gone. For instance, in the late 90s an elevated skytrain system was built in the city of Madgaon to whisk passengers across the top of this congested city; the central tourist hub for the region. The tracks and stations are there – abandoned and crumbling since 2003. Like so many other grandiose projects in India, the skytrain never got off the ground. It’s no wonder that two Indian space rockets exploded on take-off… the wonder is that they ever took off in the first place.
However, we’ve found a nice hotel, a great restaurant and a lovely beach and are quite happy to reiterate the State’s marketing slogan of “Go Goa.”

Posted by Hawkson 03:45 Archived in India Comments (3)

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