Bad Luck in Bangalore




My first impression of Bangalore was that it was a beeping, smoggy and fluorescent light-filled city with plenty to offer. My final impression was that Bangalore was a beeping, smoggy and fluorescent light filled city of madness – that I couldn’t wait to leave. Now that I’ve ruined the end of the story, I could go on to justify my view, but I think we had a run of bad luck in Bangalore that has quite discoloured my view of it… Or maybe that was the thick black pollution that fills the streets and prevents you from seeing at all.

I can see why people say it’s ‘trendy’ and ‘fun’ – if by this you mean there are places where you can drink and not get glared at, shops with all of the designer labels you can find back home and coffee shops booming out deafening David Guetta tunes. There is definitely a young, university drinking-scene, with people watching Goa versus Kolkata on the big screen and enjoying cocktails out of funky glasses. But this wasn’t what we were in the mood for after a horribly long sleeper train, being charged an extortionate amount for an average room, being charged an extortionate amount for an average meal and having cheesy yoghurt thrown over my new top by a clumsy waiter (my punishment for attempting to look presentable).

A tuk tuk driver told us of how the place had tripled in size over the last 10 years, as we waited in a traffic jam where we choked on the fumes of hundreds of beeping cars. The progression of Bangalore into a pulsating business and technological city has been as swift as it has been unpopular with the old locals – who have understandably found it hard to adjust to the huge, and pollution bringing changes. The result for me was the city felt a bit unnatural, over-stretched and over-priced – and seemed like a very forced attempt to keep up with the likes of Mumbai. Although I’m guessing this is because we made a few wrong choices with the areas of town we decided to go.

Sam woke up the next day feeling unwell, and so as we were left to roam the streets due to an unreasonably early check out time, we spent the (entire) day in a Starbucks – which is by far my best impression of Bangalore. We were given lessons on the stages of coffee tasting, delivered by a sweetly nervous member of staff who wanted to practice her English skills. In between sniffing the aromas of Kenyan coffee beans, we were given free samples of everything from vanilla lattes to red velvet cake. It’s hard to reconcile this Starbucks with the one we have at home; the nearest they get to doing anything for free is avoiding taxes.

The title of this post shows that we hit Bangalore at a bad time for us. There is always a chance of falling foul of a huge city, as there is so much on offer you may end up choosing wrong and missing out on some real gems. Would I go back? No, I value my lungs too much.


Gokarna: The Armpit of Paradise






Gokarna is a strange old beach town south of palolem. However, the two beach paradises are very different.

For one thing Gokarna is much less trodden, has much less tourists and much less capacity for any extra prospective tourists. It makes for a very small and strangely insular group of young Israelis and Europeans, ageing hippies, and in general, partially or completely insane individuals – drawn in by it’s gritty yet relaxed charm. Attitudes are lax here; you can show off your greased abs whilst hula-hooping in front of a crowd of people or else withdraw from social situations completely and live a life of muttering to yourself in solitude. You are hidden away from civilisation, or at least you feel like you are, with only bamboo huts and palm trees surrounding you.

At first, it’s hard not to be slightly unnerved by the unhinged atmosphere that lingers about the place. We lived opposite a huge, wild-haired man, who despite living on his own, could frequently be heard bursting into fits of chuckling and unintelligible conversations with himself. He could be seen drifting off into an almost sleep-like state at the dinner table, only to snap back to reality with a jump and mutter of “efemphup” or “nehmehma.”

However, there were plenty of activities aside from the fascinating people watching, such as swimming with wild dolphins or taking a walk around the bay to one of the ‘deserted’ beaches. However, far from being deserted, they played home to incredibly tanned and hairy travellers who looked surgically attached to their hammocks.

It was only after starting a fire on the beach under the stars one night and suddenly having all of the straggling travellers drawn to us like moths to the flame, that we started to understand why so many people seem unable to leave the place. Nearly every country in Europe had it’s representative, with a few Israelis and of course Indians. Even the cows joined us one by one, each person and animal adding to the strange and interesting bunch; the likes of which you would never expect to see in the same place at one time. Our week long commitment to the Om Beach family paled in comparison to the residents who had stayed for months, and some had no plans to leave at all.

The diversity amongst the people that have come together, careless of whether they have just met or how they ought to behave, is something worth coming to Gokarna for (despite the terrible food and the prospect of being trampled by cows on the beach).

They introduced us to the wonders of disturbing the plankton at night. For some wonderful reason, at night the plankton (tiny little sea creatures) glow in the dark when disturbed, and so if you swim out into the sea, with every arm and leg motion, hundreds of little glowing specks flutter around your limbs like underwater fireflies – there is no other way to describe this phenomenon without reverting to magical fairytale language. What made this better was the clear sky in which you could see thousands of stars, making the sea look like a continuation of the sky; and swimming around in it is the nearest I will ever get to space travel. I could have stayed out there all night if I hadn’t turned into a cold prune or else realised that I’m actually quite scared of being stung by a jellyfish.

And so I think we got off on the wrong foot with Gokarna, or else missed the point for the first half of our stay. It did seem like a refuge for the insane, but then you realise this only adds to the character of the place and if you’re not there to meet people, then you may aswell head to Palolem – or else sit back and enjoy some of the most interesting people watching of the Indian beach scene.

Sleepless in Sleeper Class: an Introduction to the Class System on Indian Railways



As about 50% of my time in India seems to have been spent travelling on trains, and I’ve lived a few horror stories, I thought it would be a good time to outline the confusion that is the Indian Railways. In England, the longest train journey I have ever sat through was 5 hours, and as India is huge in comparison, train journeys can range from 1 hour to 35 hours. And this means trains are equipped with beds as standard and you can spend some or all of your journey having a nice sleep on a narrow bed surrounded by numerous others.

Instead of just one standard class, plus one first class, which is a bit of a novelty/treat for us, there are 5 different classes on overnight journeys, which I introduce below, with a few of my own stories, starting with the lowest class first.

Second Sitting
Not to be confused with the concept of “second class” which might fool you into thinking that this is a class of reasonable comfort, like flying economy. This is not the case.

This class is a complete free for all, with reservations rarely made by locals and the only order is to strictly fit in as many people as possible. Seats are hard and bunks are simply metal slats, but the main problem isn’t the cramped and uncomfortable quarters, it’s the embarking and disembarking. When the train pulls into your stop, there is no restriction on the force or method you use to batter yourself through the hordes of densely packed people before, or in some cases as, the train pulls out of the station. Not to mention getting past the people that are frantically trying to shove their babies and bags on, just as desperately as you are trying to get off.

I’m proud to say I’ve survived a small journey in this class. However, I wouldn’t recommend second sitting at all, unless you have no money or no other choice. Or alternatively, if you’re an adrenaline junkie who enjoys having an excuse to knock people over or jump off moving trains.

Sleeper Class

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The layout of a sleeper class carriage

The man in seat 61 deems you brave if you choose to travel sleeper class; the class that most Indians use for their journeys. We have travelled sleeper class enough times to know it’s cheap and sometimes cheerful (it costs about £3 to go 600km) but it can also be your worst nightmare (provided you manage to fall asleep).

The carriages are split up into sections for 8 people, each made up of two sets of three-tier bunk-beds parallel to each other and a further single bunk-bed at the end, with the walk-way in between. There are about twelve of these sub-sections per carriage.

I have a complicated relationship with Sleeper Class, I love it quite as much as I hate it. If you’re lucky you can meet charming young families who treat you as one of their own, or you can at least get a friendly nudge from the man next to you when it’s your stop. You can entertain yourself for hours on end by people-watching and even witness beggars prance merrily down the aisles playing the flute with their nose. Although, beware, not all beggars are as peaceful as the prancing flute man; transvestites trail through the aisles and clap loudly in your face and wait, hands on hips, until you acknowledge their presence with a few of your spare rupees and beggar children won’t refrain from giving you a casual slap across the head if you refuse them your clinker.

You’re more exposed to Indian life – through the wide variety of people and through the permanently open windows and doors. The wind is the air-con and the loud and rhythmic sound of the train chugging is the background music; punctuated by vendors singing about the coffee and tea they sell – exactly what you want to hear when you’re thirsty and in need of refreshment on your hellishly long journey.

If you fall foul of the sleeper class lottery of luck; you’ll have to ram yourself in second sitting style and battle your way to your berth only to find four people sat casually on your bed for the night. You can try to get them to move, but in truth there is nowhere for them to move (the fact that your cheek is pressed against the window proves this). In fact, there are 32 people in a space for 8 and the train is crammed to five times capacity, and as the floor is already occupied by those bedding down for the night, all that is left for you to do is to share your bed with four strangers for the next 10 hours.

This happened to Sam and not me – on this journey, we managed to get the people off my upper bunk – but instead of bed-sharing, I endured the resentful stares of those I had relegated to the floor for many sleepless hours. It hardly mattered that we had paid for tickets and they hadn’t… The purchase of a ticket guarantees you a bed as long as you are willing to fight tooth and nail for it.

This is by no means a typical sleeper class journey, we caught a train at a busy time and on a busy route. Mostly it is impossible to predict how crowded the train will be; the only thing that is likely is that you won’t have the best nights sleep.

This aside, you can escape the over-crowding by sitting in the train door with your legs dangling over the edge and watching as you pass through the beautiful countryside, over rivers and count your blessings that you’re not in second sitting.

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Getting some fresh air
Sam trying to get some hours of sleep
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Some views through the bars of the train
Sam dicing with death
The view from the top bunk
A particularly grubby carriage
Some feet dangling
3-tier AC
These carriages feature sealed compartments (same layout as previous) with air con and significantly more padded seats than sleeper. Bed sheets and meals are provided on the newer trains, and there’s even a guard to wake you for your stop and prevent hordes of people packing into your bed. Normally twice the price of sleeper, and it a bit of a treat for those of us on a budget.
Nice curtains
Free bed sheets
2-tier AC
A rip off when you consider it’s exactly the same as 3-tier AC but with only two tier bunk beds. Double the price of 3-tier, to get moderately more privacy.

First Class
I can’t really describe what this is like accurately as I have never travelled first class. And nor do I think I ever will, as it costs near the price of a flight, and the only real benefit is you get your own compartment – but as it sleeps four you’re often still sharing with strangers.

We tend to switch between sleeper and 3-tier, depending on whether we need to arrive in our location refreshed and able to function. It’s always a gamble in sleeper class and odds on you won’t get a good nights sleep – but there’s always a chance you get a snorer or a crying baby in 3-tier and sleep is disrupted anyway. Expect trains to be late and things never to go smoothly, but you’ll nearly always have an interesting story or something good to moan about at the other end.

Happy Campers

A Palace and some Painful Postures







Mysore was one of those places that sounded immensely tempting and pleasant (it is known as ‘the Sandalwood City’ – being home to much of this sweetly scented wood) but could also easily have been a massive dirty and dusty letdown.

It was dirty and dusty, but less so than other cities, and was even relatively small and easy to navigate. One of the highlights was the huge fruit and flower market, that is over 100 years old. There were stacks upon stacks of the hugest, shiniest and most delicious forms of every fruit imaginable, separated into different alleyways. Somewhere down banana alley we found our way out of the fruit cave and looked for different tourist attractions.

The attraction we visited was one of my highlights of India so far. There are temples and palaces, and ruins of temples and palaces, but nothing so far has matched the grandeur and beauty of the Maharajas Palace. It was as I imagined the palaces of Russian fairy-tales; the place’s high painted archways and beautifully tiled floors were brought to life by an engaging audio guide, that was -shock-horror – included in the ticket price. No pictures were allowed inside, and we both got a severe telling off for trying to steal a sneaky picture – so google images will have to do. I just about managed to tear my eyes away from the solid gold elephant saddles and ornate silver tables in time to see the whole place illuminated by thousands of lightbulbs from the outside at night, which was a spectacle that made me dread their electricity bill.

Mysore is also famed for it’s yoga, and having avoided it completely so far in my life, I thought why not give it a try in such a prestigious place. Only Sam and I showed up for the drop-in session which got off to a shaky start as I had to confess my amateur status before the yoga mats were even unrolled. It further exasperated our distinguished instructor when I admitted that this was the only lesson I planned to attend. He recovered quickly and instructed us to cross our legs and close our eyes, and before I had even begun to compose myself, he began singing in a nasal, whiny voice that caught me completely off guard. What ensued was an inward battle against bursting out laughing at this occurrence, which was to him as normal as stretching. He paused only to ask us to repeat after him, the response to which was an awkward, laughter-suppressed silence.

I thought the worst was over, but as he prompted us to stand in seemingly easy positions, I sweated profusely and my arms and legs shook with the effort of maintaining even the simplest shapes. All the while he paced the tiny room, hands behind his back shouting, “stretch more”, “control your body,” and just generally to stop doing things I wasn’t even aware I was doing. I was soon informed I had bad, very bad posture and we didn’t get very far past the basics in this session (no downward dog for me). I don’t know if yoga in England resembles this, but either way I won’t be strolling so breezily into a yoga session again, or strolling anywhere quickly hereafter, as I woke the next day barely able to move my legs, arms or neck.

Mysore has sustained much of it’s magisterial glamour from when it was a major power around the 14th century. It’s magical attractions and green spaces make it a pleasure to wander around and afterwards punish your body with some back-breaking yoga.

Hampi: The Heart of a Traveller’s India






After nearly 2 months of wondering where all of our fellow travellers were, upon reaching Hampi we found where they had been hiding.. In the many ‘chill-out’ cafés, with low tables and futons instead of chairs, there they all were reclining; sharing stories and complaints about travelling. And what brings everyone to Hampi? Lots of temples, lots of boulders and most importantly; lots of the aforementioned chill-out cafés.

Looking at temples is one of the favourite pastimes of travellers. You can see why when you first gaze up at the towering structures of carved stone-work, and you think wow – that is a magnificent temple/elephant stable/tower-to-imprison-women/palace. But after a while – they all blur into one great big mass of stone, that you don’t know who built or why, and the only thing you care about is whether they provide enough shade to shelter from the blazing heat. This is a slightly unfair representation of the amazing ruins of Hampi, but I was suffering from the dreaded disease they call “temple fatigue.”

Luckily I had some interesting boulders and a river to look at to make me feel better. These boulders were scattered everywhere throughout Hampi, stacked precariously on top of one another and the only apparent explanation as to their presence, was that they were thrown down to Earth by a demon king… Whilst some travellers enjoyed climbing over these in their spare time, I favoured lying on mattresses in cafés as I was served pancake after pancake, and pondered that great question in life; should I have banana or Nutella as a topping? NB. The answer was normally banana, as one of the other perks of Hampi was that the parts that weren’t covered with temples or boulders were covered by banana trees. The trees made for a beautiful green landscape and a wide variety of banana centred treats. Other scenic-delights included a river which could be traversed by being rowed in a huge upside down spinning coconut (as strange as it sounds).

On our last night, I managed to drag my full stomach up Matanga hill to watch a sunset and enjoy an aerial view over the vast complex of the ruined city and appreciate it’s full splendor before realising it was now too dark to get back down…

Hampi has everything a traveller needs; historical sights, beautiful views and a lot of fellow travellers from all over the world to share stories with. Not to mention some beautiful sunset points atop hills; where the only disturbance is the many humping dogs that scatter the horizon.