Detour | Varanasi on the Ganges River

Varanasi
Varanasi

Varanasi on the Ganges River is a place I won’t forget in a hurry.  It was our last adventure before heading back to Mumbai for a couple of days, and I think I’m still trying to process the memories of this place!

India train
Agra
India train

Having ticked the Taj Mahal off our bucket list, we were about to take our final train ride in India, to Delhi, before catching a flight from there to Varanasi.

The train journey was around four hours long, and Jo and I had a cabin to ourselves, so we were able to stretch out and relax for a bit, something we’d not done all that much of.  Both of us were starting to feel mentally drained as it’s difficult to switch off in India, especially as a foreigner visiting for the first time.

India train
India train
India train

The train journey was unbelievably eye-opening.  We went through numerous run down towns, and each time I’d put my camera up to the window and shoot continuously as we chugged past, and then look at what images my camera had captured.  I unintentionally captured a man squatting and doing his business on the train tracks, which was a bit shocking to see as I flicked through the images!  And seeing families live in what I guess you’d describe as a shack, was an intense experience, but again I was reminded how little you need to be happy.

India train

Pulling in at Delhi, we navigated our way through the chaos, and jumped on the train to the airport.  The difference between the train station and the airport was night and day.  We went from noise, dirt, people everywhere, everything looking rundown, to arriving at Delhi airport which is modern, slick, clean and extremely first world.  And I have to admit, Jo and I were so damn happy in that airport.  From the air conditioning to the familiar western food, I hate to sound like such a tourist, because I absolutely love experiencing different cultures, but we’d definitely had our fill at this stage.  From the lack of showering, to food poisoning, me not being able to eat half the time due to my gluten intolerance, and just feeling like we needed to recharge our batteries.  Thank you Delhi airport for that moment of peace and cleanliness!

Varanasi

And thank goodness for that moment at the airport, because Varanasi was about to assault our senses yet again.  Arriving in the evening, we jumped in a cab and drove towards our accommodation.  Navigating our way to our hostel (side note: consider hostels when you’re in India, we booked a private room each, and they’re often much better quality than a hotel), was an experience.  It was dark, there were monkeys swinging off buildings, stray dogs to step over and cows in the alleyway.  But we made it, and it was good to finally see a bed.  It had been a loooong day!

Varanasi
Ganges River
Ganges River

Jo and I always started our day’s slow and our first day in Varanasi was no exception.  We’d make a point of finding a good cafe on Google and we’d sit there for an hour or so drinking cappuccinos and just being in the moment.   Our first experience along the Ganges river was catching sight of a snake charmer, which was such a bucket list moment and really quite bizarre as this little snake would pop his head out of the basket each time the man played music.

Ganges River

Most of the action along the river occurs early morning and in the evening, so our first wander was pretty uneventful.  We saw some of the ghats, of which there are 88 in total, with steps leading down to the river so people can bathe and pray.  Two ghats are used as cremation sites, and we did witness this a little later that day.

Varanasi

Often the best experiences are when you have no plan and as we walked through the dusty alleyways in Varanasi, dodging a herd of water buffalo, we saw an open door leading into an Ashram.  Asking if we could come in, the residents welcomed us, letting us watch as they held a ceremony of prayer and allowing us to take photos too.

Varanasi
Varanasi
Varanasi

This was a pretty special experience with the ashram also being home to a school.  These little guys were so sweet!

Varanasi

Back down at the river that evening, the place was heaving with people.  We stopped to watch the burning of a body, which really does sound weird as I type those words!  I wasn’t sure how I’d respond to seeing this, but I guess in many ways, even though it was happening before my own eyes, it still didn’t seem real.

Ganges River
Varanasi
Varanasi

Stray dogs lurked around the cremation area, probably hoping for a snack, if you know what I mean.  And yes, we did see a dog with a big piece of charred who knows what in his mouth.  There is no sugar coating of anything along The Ganges River, life and death are both very much in your face, or as I experienced the following day, in your mouth, as I must have inhaled some of the ash (ARGH!), and devoured an entire block of chocolate to remove the tasted of whoever I had swallowed a piece of!

Ganges River

The following morning was an extremely early start, I think around 5am from memory.  We wanted to take a boat ride along the river to see the early morning bathers and people in prayer at sunrise.  Our guide looked all of 16 years old.  My only concern the whole time was trying not to get any of the water from the Ganges on me, which would flick up off the oar, as Jo and I would recoil and cringe as it landed on some part of us.

Ganges River
Ganges River
Ganges River

Just to clarify that we weren’t being princesses,  the river is the 5th most polluted in the world.  Bits of half burnt bodies, whole bodies that have been thrown overboard, open sewers, bathers (both human and animals) and industrial contaminants are floating around.  I’m guessing you’d not be that keen to have the Ganges River land on your either ;o)  The boat trip was definitely worth it.  Watching bathers dunk themselves under water three times in a prayer ritual, early morning cremations and the most interesting of characters wander around looking high on who knows what, it was pretty interesting to say the least!

Ganges River

We were leaving Varanasi that afternoon, and we were ready to head back to Mumbai which seemed tame compared to all we’d experienced.  But I wanted to take one last wander along the Ganges, so I left Jo at the hostel and raced down to the riverfront with my camera.  It was on this walk that I saw some of the most alarming sights.  I thought I was imagining it, but as I swung back for a second glance, I blinked in disbelief as a man strolled around in his little orange loin cloth, with his left arm completed removed from his shoulder socket.  WHAT?  It was following that moment, that I tasted the burning body in my mouth, and thought, thank you for the unique experiences Varanasi, but I’m ready to head to the airport now!

To Be Continued.

Detour | The Taj Mahal, India

Taj Mahal

Taj Mahal

The Taj Mahal in India features on many a person’s travel bucket list.  And I’ve done it, I’ve finally ticked the box and seen this beautiful structure up close and personal.

Leaving Jaipur very early one morning, we arrived at the train station, settled into our seats, and as the train pulled out of the station, we had a complete ‘OH SH*T’ moment as we thought we’d boarded the wrong train.  OMG can you imagine!  Thank goodness we WERE on the right train after all.  Panic over, we relaxed and enjoyed the moment of quiet, which is always a rare treat in India.

Taj Mahal India

We arrived in Agra, home to the Taj Mahal, around midday, did our usual bartering with a tuk-tuk driver and jumped aboard to head towards our accommodation.  I use the word ‘accommodation’ because I feel uncomfortable giving it the title of ‘hotel’.  On first glance, the place we’d chosen to lay our head down for one night actually looked quite nice.  It was surrounded by loads of greenery, and it was also spitting distance from the Taj Mahal.

Checking in at reception, we were informed that we’d actually booked a room that comes with a bucket of hot water, but if we’d like to upgrade to a superior room, then they would give us a special price and that would include running hot water whenever we liked.  Ha! I just loved these moments.  They’re so completely different to our first world lives.  So we ‘upgraded’ from the bucket to the water running through an actual shower hose.

Taj Mahal India

The cleanliness of the room was extremely questionable and a rock would’ve been softer than the pillows on offer, but we had more important issues to deal with.  We needed coffee.  And we’d seen a western looking take-out coffee shop just around the corner, so we walked in that direction.

It’s amazing the things that get you excited after a week or so in India.  Placing our order for two cappuccinos, they passed them over to us in actual take-out coffee cups.  I know it seems ridiculous, but when you’re used to the usual first world home comforts, and you’ve experienced none of them for a good while, getting coffee in a take-out cup (my favourite way to drink coffee) seems like a real treat.

Taj Mahal India

We sat at a table outside, which faced out towards the line for Indian nationals to enter the Taj Mahal.  Yes there is a separate line for the locals, where they pay a lesser price than tourists, but it means the line is a lot longer.  The line was largely made up of males.  Think hundreds and hundreds of males standing on the small street opposite us.  Now keep in mind, two western girls stand out like a sore thumb.  It was the largest audience I’ve ever had watching me drink my cappuccino! I loved these moments, where for once I was the minority, the one that others looked at with strange curiosity.  It’s always good to be on the other side of the coin every so often!

After buying a street kid a huge piece of chocolate cake from the cafe, and watching him scuttle off wide eyed and happy, and then worrying immensely about the skinny dog that had settled down near my feet, we head back to our ‘accommodation’ to get sorted for our visit to the Taj Mahal.

Taj Mahal India

Tickets bought, we entered through the tourist gate, which had no queue at all and made me feel a little uncomfortable and sad that I was lucky enough and ‘wealthy’ enough to pay for that ticket, where all the people from India who had likely travelled a long distance to see the Taj Mahal were stuck in a line that would take hours.

Our original plan had been to visit the following day at sunrise, when there are very few people on the grounds.  However the weather was showing clouds and so we’d ended up getting our first sighting of the Taj Mahal at around 3pm when every man and his cousin, aunt and grandfather was there too.  It was a bit of a battle getting to a spot where you could get a decent shot, and just when we managed to steady our camera, we were asked ‘Excuse me madam, could we have a photo with you?’.  This was definitely the turning point for Jo and I, on how generous we were, obliging with selfies.  We’d finally made it to the freakin’ Taj Mahal, we were staring straight at it, we had a good viewpoint for a lovely photo to take home for our own memories, and the selfie requests started.    I sound bitter and twisted I knoooooow, but guys, I honestly obliged with hundreds of selfie requests, so this time I was standing my ground and saying no.  I wanted to selfishly take in this moment for myself.

Taj Mahal India

We wandered the grounds and snapped loads of our own selfies, commenting on how the Taj Mahal looked so much smaller in real life.  This has been my experience with every famous monument or building I’ve ever seen up close.  Buckingham Palace was much smaller than I ever expected, The White House was waaaaaay smaller than I’d imagined, and so I guess it should have come as no surprise that the Taj Mahal was also smaller too.

It is truly beautiful nonetheless, and I feel I should paste some Wikipedia text here so this post doesn’t just talk about hot water in buckets, take-out coffee cups and selfies! ;o)  Wikipedia says: The Taj Mahal, meaning “Crown of the Palace” is an ivory-white marble mausoleum on the south bank of the Yamuna river in the Indian city of Agra. It was commissioned in 1632 by the Mughal emperor, Shah Jahan (reigned from 1628 to 1658), to house the tomb of his favourite wife, Mumtaz Mahal. The tomb is the centrepiece of a 17-hectare (42-acre) complex, which includes a mosque and a guest house, and is set in formal gardens bounded on three sides by a crenellated wall.

Taj Mahal

We spent a good couple of hours strolling the grounds, and taking it all in.  Before we left, we wanted to get one good photo each of us standing in front of the water, with the Taj Mahal in the background.  This was equal parts frustrating and total comedy.  I mean, you’ve got thousands of people wandering the grounds, with the exact same thought.  Everyone wants that photo!  We took turns to make our way down the steps and to stand in the exact spot that would make for the perfect photo.  Except the problem was, to our left and to our right, were other tourists trying to do the same thing and we didn’t want them in our photo.

Jo got lucky and snapped a handful of photos of me that were tourist free.  We’d not had the same luck getting a photo of Jo, so I sent her back down the steps and instructed her not to move.  I had a guy next to me with his camera pointed at his friend, and said friend was showing up in my view finder.  Neither of us were willing to budge.  Eventually a man appeared next to Jo, and to this day we’ve no idea if he actually worked at the Taj Mahal or not, but he ushered all the other tourists away so Jo could have her moment of glory and I could snap a tourist free photo of her.  This still makes me laugh!  One thing we discovered over and over was the helpfulness and kindness of locals, even if it meant it was slightly awkward and other tourists were pushed to the side! ;o)

Taj Mahal India

Leaving the Taj Mahal, our thoughts turned to food and we bartered with some tuk-tuk drivers to take us to a restaurant.  One tuk-tuk driver ended up pushing the other which was a bit of a shock to see, and also sad that there’s that amount of desperation to make a living.  We told him off nonetheless!  We ate a delicious dinner in a lovely restaurant, and as we returned that evening, and walked past the coffee shop we’d sat at earlier that day, I saw my skinny dog.  I chatted to him in a baby voice, and for a short moment he looked happy and his tail wagged.  My heart still breaks every time I think of that dog :o(

And as for the hot water.  We returned to our ‘accommodation’, planning on a hot shower in our upgraded ‘superior room’.  Alas, there was no hot water.  Off to reception we went, to explain our situation.  It was to be no problem, one of the guys just had to climb on the roof above our room and turn it on.  HAHA!  I heard him up on the roof, and then I turned on the basin taps.  Out of the taps flowed brown water.  I decided in that moment, that I’d yet again skip the luxury of a shower on this day. ;o)

Next stop: Varanasi on the Ganges River.  To Be Continued.

Taj Mahal

Detour | A few days in Jaipur, Rajasthan

Monkey Temple Jaipur
Monkey Temple Jaipur

If you read my last blog post here on my time in Udaipur, you’ll already know that I’d woken up the morning we were leaving for Jaipur, and it was Illness – 1 Annmaree – 0.  Talk about the worst timing!  I Whatsapp’d Jo who was in her own room, telling her I didn’t know if I could fly, as I’d been up since 4.30am, spending most of that time in the bathroom – sorry if TMI! ;o)

I popped an immodium hoping that might at least give me some sort of insurance policy, swallowing it, then sprinting to the bathroom to bring that plus the entire contents of my stomach back up.  OMG not fun.  But I soldiered on!  I packed my bags, head downstairs, got into our cab and hoped for the best.  Laying my head back on the car seat, I willed the journey to the airport to go reaaaally fast, and the moment we pulled up, I dumped my bags with Jo and ran towards the airport bathroom.  I allowed myself all of 10 seconds to feel sorry for myself, whilst I stared down the toilet bowl in the cubicle.  I had a little cry, wiped my mouth, and went to check in.

India

Call it a miracle, but that was more or less the end of the illness.  THANK GOODNESS!  We landed in Jaipur, pre-paid for a tuk tuk, and made our way towards our hotel.  By this stage, my whole body was aching like I had the flu, I guess from dehydration and whatever bug I’d picked up.  All I wanted to do was take a shower and lay my head down on a pillow.

Arriving at the hotel, we were shown our rooms: windowless boxes in the basement, with external toilets and a bunch of mattresses on the floor, where the staff sleep during their breaks.  Yes, you read right.  Here’s the thing in India, the staff often come from villages hours away by train, leaving their wives and children so they can work seven days a week, with minimal breaks, to make money to send home.  They have no staff quarters, so they either sleep on the floor, or on the sofa in the hotel reception area.  This was a common occurrence throughout our trip.

Monkey Temple Jaipur

As understanding as we were to the staff’s situation, the last thing Jo and I felt like dealing with, were external bathrooms and the knowledge a bunch of strangers were sleeping outside our rooms on mattresses.  This was definitely our first moment of the trip where we really craved some home comforts.

We considered moving to a Sheraton hotel, just so we could rest and be certain of having a hot shower, but in the end, we upgraded to rooms with our own bathrooms, and I ended up staying in bed the entire day, aching and weak.

As much as I felt like I was wasting the day, it was so necessary to recuperate and regain some energy, something you need a lot of whilst travelling around India.

Rajasthan

The following day, still a little weak, but feeling human again, I was determined to get out and about in Jaipur and see as much as I could.  We started the day our usual way, cappuccino’s in a western style cafe, where we always allowed ourselves 1-2 hours to start the day slowly, chit chat, and enjoy our coffee.

Jaipur, also known as the Pink City, has some beautiful architecture inside the old city walls, so we jumped in a tuk tuk and made our way in that direction.  Walking towards the entrance of the old city, we literally stepped over a man who was face first on the floor and most certainly not moving.  Jo and I are pretty certain he wasn’t alive!  These surreal moments happen often in India, and even when you’re there, stepping over a human being that doesn’t appear to be breathing, it’s still hard to connect with the moment and think THIS IS REALLY HAPPENING!

hawa mahal jaipur

Inside the old city of Jaipur you’ll find shop after shop, which are really trying to target the tourists.  I’m going to be honest, it gets unbelievably tedious with the relentless ‘hey lady, you want shoes?’ ‘hello madame, come and see inside my shop, I have nice sari’s, pashmina…’.  The most patient person would start to lose their shit.   Our shells were starting to harden, and yes we may have been a little short with some shop owners, and we know they are just trying to make money to take home to their family, but it’s exhausting when every 20 seconds you find yourself saying ‘no thank you’, ‘i’m just looking thanks’, ‘no i’m not interested’.

I think this is why we loved our regular coffee breaks, it was the only way to hide away from the barrage of noise, questions, and general intensity.  So we did exactly that after an hour or so of being inside Jaipur’s old city.  We found the Wind View Cafe, and ascended to the top of the building, enjoying a moment of peace, whilst looking out at the gorgeous pink Hawa Mahal (in the photo above).

Rajasthan

An afternoon spent inside the sari market in Jaipur was truly amazing!  It is Aladdin’s cave, but with sari’s.  A labyrinth of narrow alleyways, where you are literally squishing past mostly women, is home to stall after stall of sari sellers.  I have never in my life seen so many beautiful fabrics and colours.  We were on a mission to purchase sari’s, so we could take photos in them at the Monkey Temple in Jaipur.

However, as I’ve probably mentioned many times already, NOTHING is simple in Jaipur.  We ended up following some shop assistant around the sari labyrinth in search of sari blouses, the little cropped tops you wear under your outfit.  He took us to half a dozen shops, and each time he’d show us something that was exactly what we HADN’T asked for.  We’d give him the benefit of the doubt, and in the end, we just had to be a little short and tell him ‘no thank you, we’re leaving’ and walked away.  Thankfully a couple of helpful shopkeepers pointed us in the right direction of the sari blouse sellers and we eventually made our purchase.

By late afternoon, we called it a day.  It was time to find a restaurant for dinner, sit on our butts, and relax!

Jaipur

The next morning, we were up early.  The staff in our hotel really were fantastic, and any request we made, they tried their best to help us with.  I’d asked if someone could help us tie our sari’s and the staff arranged for us to go to the neighbours house so the women there could get us ready.  I was ready to pop next door at 7am.  I was still waiting at 8.15am.  Again, this is India, and they work on their own time schedule.  When I finally went next door, the family were lovely and it quickly turned out that I hadn’t been sold a sari, but instead a piece of fabric that wouldn’t be long enough.  Nothing was surprising by this stage of the trip.

One of the women offered me a choice of her sari’s, what a lifesaver, and so kind too!  I chose out an orange and pink sari and she went to work carefully wrapping and folding the fabric to perfection.  Some time later, Jo and I were both ready, our tuk tuk turned up and we drove towards the monkey temple.

India

Now this moment was an experience.  I think Jo is still having nightmares, wondering why I made her go through with it! Ha!  We pulled up at the walking track, where there was rubbish every which way you looked.  There were also goats, cows, pigs and monkeys traipsing around in the rubbish.  A man and a young boy approached our tuk tuk asking if we’d like to buy nuts to feed the monkeys.  ‘No thank you’ we both said.  I love monkeys, but I’d already seen the size of some of them and I was not comfortable getting too close to them!  The young boy offered to be our ‘monkey protector’.  We declined, but he also declined to listen and walked alongside us as we started on the path towards the temple.

Monkey Temple Jaipur

I quickly felt grateful for our young monkey protector, as Jo and I jumped and squealed when a monkey came within a metre of us.  Our little friend kept assuring us ‘don’t worry, I am monkey protector, these monkeys are my friends’.  I’ve never felt so reliant on a child in my life!  We navigated our way past the tiny kids that lived in huts on the track, as they ran towards us, trying to block our way, saying ‘bindi! you want bindi?’.  I confess I had to give a kid of around 4 years old a stern ‘NO!’ complete with finger point, because I literally could not get past her!

India

We finally made it to the temple, where we encountered one of the worst smells of our lives.  That, the monkeys rushing past, and the people that lived on the temple who were illegally trying to ask for money from us, meant our morning was one of severe intensity.

Jo and I both took turns standing to face the water in front of the main temple, and pose in our sari’s to capture the moment.  The smell was deep in our nostrils by this point, and we were almost ready to give up on it, when I stepped out one last time, and Jo manage to press the shutter button at the exact moment a monkey strolled past.  This is my favourite photo of my entire trip in India.  What the photo doesn’t capture, is the rubbish floating in the water, as I spent a very long time editing it out.  So please, if you visit the temple in Jaipur, expect the unexpected, you may get lucky and visit when there’s no smell or rubbish, or you could get the same experience we did.

Rajasthan

Back up the path with our monkey protector, we slipped him some money and head back to the hotel to change, before yet again jumping in a tuk tuk to stop for lunch.  Then on to some shops for a quick look, a stroll around Amer Fort, a quick hike to the top of a hill to catch the sunrise, and finally sitting our butts down again, to relax and have dinner.

Jaipur India

Jaipur was intense, it’s very noisy, very dirty and very chaotic.  But I urge you to add it to your itinerary as there are so many amazing sights to see in that buzzing city.

We were on the move yet again, this time waking early to head to the train station and catch a train to Agra.  Next stop: The Taj Mahal.

To Be Continued….

Hawa Mahal Jaipur

Detour | Onward to Udaipur, Rajasthan

Udaipur
Udaipur

Hello! Firstly, apologies for the seriously long delays between my India blog posts, but life and work just seems to get in the way, so please be patient with me ;o)  In my last post which you can read here, I shared my adventures in Jodhpur, and now it’s onward to Udaipur, Rajasthan.

We’d decided to hire a driver to travel between Jodhpur and Udaipur, and arranged everything the day before the trip, with the manager at our accommodation.  Agreeing to set off early, we were up and ready the following morning, took a tuk-tuk to the meeting place of our driver, and waited.  And waited.  And waited.  An hour went by.  Next thing our hotel manager turns up, explaining there had been a problem with the car, and we’d now be going to Udaipur with a different driver.  Jo and I were starting to see that anything we did or organised whilst in India, would never be a simple process.

Ranakpur Temple
Ranakpur Temple
Ranakpur Temple

We met our new driver, jumped in his car and set off in the direction of Ranakpur Temple, a Jain temple made of marble, and something we wanted to see up close.  We chatted back and forth with our driver, and warmed to him immediately.  He was the loveliest man, a very fatherly type, and we felt safe in his company and knew he’d look after us.

We drove through some small towns where the only description I can come up with is ‘total poverty’.  It is such an eye opener, and every time I experienced these moments, and saw people smiling and laughing, it confirmed how little material possessions we actually need, to make our lives a happy one.

Ranakpur Temple

A few hours drive later, we arrived at Ranakpur Temple.  As you’ll see from the photos above and below, it’s pretty magnificent!  We slipped off our shoes, and ascended the stairs into the temple, where there are over 1444 marble pillars, with no two pillars featuring the same carving.  It was the perfect pit stop between the two cities, and I’d highly recommend it.

Ranakpur Temple
Ranakpur Temple
Udaipur
Udaipur

Back in the car, we carried on, driving through the mountains towards Udaipur, arriving early evening.  Our lovely, kind hearted driver, dropped us at the entrance to the old city, hailed us a tuk-tuk, making sure we didn’t get ripped off, and gave us his number in case we had any problems.  We jumped in the tuk-tuk and chugged off towards our hotel.

Rajasthan
India
India

Udaipur, also known as the City of Lakes, has a more serene feeling to it than any of the other spots we visited in India.  Full of exquisite palaces and temples, we quickly realised this city has a slower pace, and the locals were a lot more relaxed too.  It was a welcome change, to feel life move a little slower for a few days.

Udaipur
Udaipur
Udaipur
Udaipur
Udaipur

Our slow paced mornings in Udaipur always started with coffee at Millets of Mewar, a vegan AND GLUTEN FREE restaurant.  The food here is delicious, from the gluten free pancakes to the curries, and I highly recommend it if you’re staying nearby.  Jo and I would sit there for an hour or so, sipping almond milk cappuccinos, whilst putting the world to rights.

Udaipur
Udaipur
Udaipur

We spent our days in Udaipur wandering around, with no itinerary, visiting the City Palace, discovering great cafes and chit chatting to locals.

Rajasthan
Rajasthan
India
India

And it was on one particular evening when chatting to a store owner, and suddenly hearing a lot of noise down the road, that Udaipur’s slower pace suddenly picked up.  The store owner explained that it was wedding season, and the noise was in fact the groom and guests walking parade style to meet his bride.  Actually, let me clarify, the guests were walking, the groom was on a magnificent white horse, looking like something out of a fairytale book.

Within minutes, we managed to be swept up in the middle of the parade, with guests going crazy around us, dancing, bellowing at us to dance, little old ladies nudging us from behind to move forward towards the wedding venue and everyone saying ‘you’re coming to the wedding!’.  It was 10 minutes of utter madness and fun, but we certainly weren’t dressed for a wedding, and we managed to wiggle out of the clutches of the guests and stand on the side of the road to continue watching the party go by.

Rajasthan

I had one ‘interesting’ situation happen in Udaipur.  An encounter with a massage guy, who stands outside his centre, and asks to check your health by pressing on your palms.  I obliged, and to be fair, he was extremely accurate when it came to my aches and pains.  Deciding to book a massage, I turned up for my appointment, was lead upstairs to the room, and told to undress.  This sort of massage is not for the faint hearted, there was no ‘I’ll leave the room whilst you undress’, he just stood in the corner and waited.  That’s fine, I’m pretty relaxed with that sort of thing.

Rajasthan
udaipur
India

The massage was an hour long.  Was it good from a technique point of view? Yes, sure.  But oh my days, I would have had friends running out of that room crying.  This man claims he travels to Europe to work on clients, so therefore you would assume he’d understand what type of dialogue is acceptable/not acceptable to westerners.  The man was creepy.  Physically I did not feel violated, but his conversation with me and his word choice were not okay. I am so thankful that I am able to feel strong enough in myself and not come across as weak or afraid to these sort of people, especially when you have some strange 6ft man hovering over you on the massage bed and he says ‘don’t worry, I won’t touch your special flower’.  Honestly.  Those are the exact words.

I’ve had experience with an Indian healer before, and I know that they are much less prudish than us westerners, however I also feel that this massage therapist in Udaipur isn’t someone you should trust.  As it turns out, one European woman reported him to the police and he went to jail for a bit, and as I asked around about his reputation, the general reply was that he’s very good at massage but a ‘very bad man’ – the locals words.  Wow.  SO, please, if you’re in Udaipur DO NOT VISIT Bharti Massage Centre.  You’ll recognise the man immediately, he’s an older man, usually in trousers, shirt and sandals, with long hair pulled back in a ponytail, and he works with his son.  I’ve since read all sorts of negative reviews on other tourists experiences there, and whilst nothing happened to me that I felt violated in a physical sense, I know his conversation would have deeply affected some of my friends if they’d been in my shoes.  I’d like to protect others from that potential negative experience.

India
India
Udaipur
Udaipur

Aside from that bit of drama and a random encounter with a Swiss hairstylist, where I ended up being her ‘model’ for a dress fitting for one of her upcoming shows, we drank coffee, ate delicious food, we even had Mexican and margharita’s one evening, whilst perched on a rooftop balcony that overlooked the lake.

india

The one thing I had been very weary about throughout my trip, was getting ill, because I have a 100% success rate at getting sick in second/third world countries. So every coffee I sipped, I would eye it up, suspicious of how fresh the milk was and how clean the cup was.  I’d wash my hands in anti-bac gel a gazillion times a day, and kept up with my daily dose of probiotics.

And so it was, that I kept this 100% success rate, and found myself waking up feeling incredibly unwell at 4am, on the morning we were due to leave for Jaipur.  I was A. thankful that Jo and I had booked separate rooms at this particular hotel but B. wondered how on earth I’d manage to get myself together by 7am, get in a taxi, and take a flight.  And don’t say ‘well why didn’t you just take immodium?’  Oh I did, and threw it back up 10 seconds later.  I knew this day was not going to be pretty….

To Be Continued in my next blog post x

India
india
Udaipur

Detour | Let it Snow, Let it Snow, Let it Snow

Let it snow
Let it snow

Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow!  So how about all that snow last week in London?  Wow!  As I’m writing this I’m mentally apologising to my friend Fran who didn’t find the snow as appealing last week, when she got called into work in the middle of the night to deal with issues caused by the weather!  Sorry Fran!  ;o)

For those of us not getting called into work in the early hours, it was well, really quite fun.  In the almost 17 years I’ve lived in London (omg 17 years on March 9th!), I can count on one hand the amount of times we’ve had decent snowfall.  And I remember all those moments fondly, because it’s always a novelty for us to get enough of the white stuff to make a snowman.

SNOW
london snow

It was freeeeezing outside, but I’d had the thought that I should get outside and find somewhere to take some photos, because who knows when this type of weather will fall upon us again.  So there I was walking down to the local park, all rugged up, with a backpack on, containing my tutu skirt and pink Vans, and a tripod slung over my shoulder.

let it snow

I scouted around the area for a bit to find the perfect spot, set up my tripod and camera, by which point my hands and feet were already starting to burn from the cold!  A quick look left and right, I pulled on my tutu skirt, changed my shoes and hoped no one saw this weirdo getting changed under a tree, in freezing conditions, in a park.

london snow

Setting the camera to self timer, I pushed all thoughts of freezing limbs out of my mind, and went to work, running between the camera and my posing spot to check on the success of the shots.  A handful of people wandered past as I twirled around in the snow, and I just find the key to not being embarrassed is to not even look them in the eye.  I know they’re there thinking ‘WTF?’, ‘She must be freezing!’, ‘Who is this weirdo?’, and all of those thoughts, but the show must go on, and my determination is more important than what a stranger might think of me!

london
Let it snow

Twenty minutes in, I admitted defeat, at which point my hands were burning red with cold, and I could barely feel my feet.  Another quick look left and right, I changed back into my warm clothes, and trudged back home through the snow.  Sometimes, you just need to grab these moments, not overthink them, go for it, and have a laugh.  That’s exactly what I did, and I’m glad I have these slightly crazy memories to look back on!

I hope these photos give you a giggle, and remind you to seize the moment, don’t worry about what others think, and just enjoy yourself! x

Let it snow

My Pink Sweater

My Pink Sweater

My Pink Sweater

My Pink Sweater

My Pink Sweater.  I can hardly believe I own a sweater that is pink.  And one with hearts on too!  Instagrammer’s love pink, but not not this Instagrammer!

Although I wear skirts and dresses, I’m certainly not a girly, girl all the time.  You’ll never see me in ballet pumps, they are honestly my worst nightmare.  You’ll rarely see me in high heels unless it’s for a special occasion, but you’ll often see me in brogues or trainers, because hello comfort, and the fact they’re not too girly.

Pink hasn’t really been a colour floating around in my wardrobe since I was around 8 years old.  I feel super uncomfortable in colours and outfits that make me look, well, really girly.  It just doesn’t suit my personality!  However, I started to notice late in 2017, that the colour pink was making its way into loads of clothing and shoe stores, and some of the shades were actually bearable, in fact, so bearable, I found myself picking up pink items from shelves and wondering who I’d become.

My Pink Sweater

I wore a pink H&M t-shirt when I was travelling in India last year, a deeper shade of pink that worked well with black skinny jeans and white Superga’s.  Next thing Christmas rolled around and I became the proud owner of pink Van’s, a dusky, very cool pink, not too girly in my opinion.

And then I spotted My Pink Sweater online, and I felt in love immediately.  Walking past & other stories one Saturday afternoon, I popped in to try it on, and took a glance in the mirror.  Sold.  I even bought a pair of pink sunglasses at the same time.  I don’t know what is happening to me.  My pink sweater is super cosy and warm and it goes perfectly with a pair of blue jeans and white Superga’s.  If you’re in the market for something pink, and something perfect for these cold February days, they’ve still got stock online.

So here’s to a new shade in my wardrobe.  But please, if you ever spot me wearing something pink and purple with a butterfly pattern, understand I’ve 100% lost my mind, and you should find me a straight jacket immediately. ;o)

My Pink Sweater

My Pink Sweater

Detour | Jodhpur, The Blue City of Rajasthan

Jodhpur
Jodhpur

After a few days in Mumbai, thinking I was totally immersed in the culture by that stage, I was kept on my toes and made to realise that the culture shock had only just begun.  Jodhpur in Rajasthan was certainly no international city with almond milk flat whites like Mumbai.

We flew to Jodhpur, landing mid morning, and jumped on a tuk-tuk to our accommodation.  Arriving at our haveli hotel, we realised our ‘let’s get things done quickly’ London mentality wasn’t going to fly, and I think check-in took ooh around 1.5 hours, with lots of stories told, info given, general chit-chat and us left wondering when we’d actually ever see the room.

Jodhpur

When we eventually did get the keys to our room, I dropped my bags and made my way to the roof top, to soak up the afternoon sun and gaze at the views of Jodhpur that surrounded me.  Known as the Blue City, I spent ages looking down over the blue buildings, watching sari-clad women hand washing in buckets, curious locals waving at me from another roof top nearby, and seeing eagles soar high above Mehrangarh Fort.

Jodhpur
Jodhpur
Jodhpur
Jodhpur
Jodhpur
Jodhpur

In the late afternoon, a worker from our haveli guided us to a perfect vantage point, to watch the sun set.  We made our way through a tangle of tiny winding alleyways, ascending stairs, and becoming terrified as lots of over protective female dogs growled and barked at us, protecting their puppies.  I am obsessed with dogs, and I’m that person that stops to pat as many as I can each and every day, but this was definitely not one of those days!  Thankfully our guide acted as our dog protector and we made our way to the top.

Jodhpur
Jodhpur
Jodhpur
Jodhpur

We spent an hour or so watching the most beautiful sunset and taking hundreds of pictures.  AND I met more dogs at the sunset spot, the type that were feeling very unprotective and were happy to become my best friend immediately.  If you’re a dog lover, your heart will melt a million times over in India.

Jodhpur

Back at our haveli, the staff phoned one of their trusty tuk-tuk guys to take us to a factory selling everything from rugs to pashmina’s, and later to a restaurant.  We sat in the back seat of the tuk-tuk, our driver started the engine, and within a few minutes, we were in the heart of the market area.  It was full of colour and lights, people EVERYWHERE, and our driver thinking he was in a Formula One race.  I think this moment was one of the highlights of my trip.  ‘Moustache Man’, (it’s what we nicknamed our driver) was completely mad, and the more we laughed, the faster he drove, dodging oncoming traffic, cows and people, laughing his head off as we went.  It felt like something straight out of an Indiana Jones movie.

Jodhpur
Jodhpur
Jodhpur

Arriving at the factory, we were ushered in and introduced to a man named Praveen.  Praveen looked like he’d just been shopping in Selfridges here in London.  Very well dressed, and very well spoken he began his two hour sales pitch.  We fell hook, line and sinker, as he produced pashmina’s in various qualities, and therefore prices too, duvet covers, dresses, and jackets.  You name it, we saw it.  Praveen knew every name of every upmarket department store in London, and any name I threw at him he was familiar with too.  So we put our trust in him, and walked away that evening with some goodies, vowing to return the following morning.

Jodhpur
Jodhpur

We then ate dinner at the most amazing rooftop restaurant, a fancy establishment with the staff dressed exquisitely, and the food tasting so, so good.  The contrast of life out on the streets of Jodhpur, compared with this restaurant was quite mind blowing.  The difference between rich and poor in India is an eye opener.

Jodhpur
Jodhpur
Jodhpur

The following day started with the discovery of a cold shower, a situation that would become all too familiar during the trip.  We liked to begin our days in India slowly with a cappuccino in a coffee shop.  We Googled and found one that was recommended by other travellers, and made our way in that direction.  Two cappuccino’s later, it was time to pay another visit to Praveen.  This time we decided on purchasing sari’s.  Fabric after fabric was laid out in front of us, sari’s were draped over us, and finally we both settled on one each, and handed over more money than I’d intended to spend.

Jodhpur
Jodhpur
Jodhpur

After our sari purchase’s, we wandered through the markets, with the endless noise of shop sellers asking us to come into their store.  This constant can get tiring pretty quickly when you just want to have a browse, but it’s impossible to do so without being asked if you’d like to buy whatever you’ve glanced at, and questioned when you say that you’re just looking.  I totally get that tourists are likely their biggest buyers, but I’d like to start a customer service course in India to show the shop sellers they’re doing more harm than good by hounding their customers the way they do!

Jodhpur

That afternoon we walked up to Mehrangarh Fort. Built around 1460, it’s one of the largest forts in India, reached by following a winding road up to the gates, 125 m above the city.  We were blessed by a hindu priest who marked us with some red powder on our forehead, but what we mostly did, was take selfies with Indian tourists.  I’m talking 20 or so photos with a school group, another dozen with some teenage boys, then a photoshoot with a family and their baby, and other families who all insisted on getting a photo on each one of their mobile phones, and when there’s half a dozen family members, this can take awhile!  It was amusing and we obliged, because it was very sweet that they wanted to take photos with us.  But believe me, further on in our trip, this novelty wore thin!

Jodhpur
Jodhpur
Jodhpur

As the sun went down in Jodhpur, we bartered with a tuk-tuk driver for a fair price and drove through the bustling streets towards a restaurant for dinner, on our last evening there.  We loved this city, and it was the perfect first stop for our adventure in Rajasthan.  And wow were there adventures ahead of us! ….

Until my next post. x

Oh and P.S, the sari and pashmina’s we bought from Praveen, the ones we were told were top quality, were questionable according to many other locals along the way.  It’s a long old story, but just a warning, keep your wit’s about you and don’t get caught up in the moment like we did!

Jodhpur
Jodhpur
Jodhpur

Detour | Dharavi Slum Tour, Mumbai India

Dharavi
Dharavi

For two and half weeks in November 2017, I took a trip to India that turned out to be one of the most incredible, heartwarming, often frustrating, and eye opening adventures I’ve ever experienced.  I took thousands of photos to capture as many moments as possible and to help me share my story.

Dharavi Slums
Mumbai slums
Dharavi Slums

Then I wondered to myself, how on earth do I even begin to tell my story?  How can I explain everything I saw?  Because there so many amazing moments.  The smiles on people’s faces when their lives were full of hardship.  The frustration of being asked daily, on repeat, over and over ‘Ma’am, you want pashmina?’.  The amusement of being shoved out of the way by a cow passing me on the street, YES a cow, for goodness sake!  The look on the young boy’s face as I handed him a box containing a huge piece of chocolate cake, which was clearly so much better than anything he’d been rifling through the bin for moments earlier.

Mumbai slums
Mumbai Slums

Where do I begin?

So I decided, the beginning.  In Mumbai.  On the Dharavi Slum Tour, guided by fabulous Mohammed.  Friends of mine recommended Inside Mumbai Tours and having seen photos of their adventure with Mohammed, I contacted him and was so pleased when he replied saying he had availability to show my friend and I around his neighbourhood, Dharavi.  We opted for a full day tour, which meant we had the comfort of a driver and an air conditioned car to take us to all of Mumbai’s top sights.

Dharavi
Dharavi
Dharavi

Mohammed arrived at our hotel reception on the day of our tour with his trademark big smile and his welcoming demeanour.   We jumped in the car, exchanged hello’s with our driver, and were off in the direction of Dharavi, the third largest slum in the world, and where Mohammad’s family has been living for 52 years.

Dharavi
Mumbai India
Dharavi
Mumbai Slums

Having been to a slum in Medellin, Colombia I thought I might have some idea as to what it would look like.  But it was much more eye opening than I could have possibly imagined.  The sheer size of the place is something that shocked me to start with, and as we descended down some stairs into Dharavi, I was greeted with so many different moments all happening at once.  Children running barefoot amongst the rubbish, roosters pecking at the rubbish, and people going about their day from workers to mothers with babies.  The place is busy!

We wandered down alleyways whilst Mohammed explained to us about the various businesses that ran successfully inside the slum.   We met factory workers, saw recycling plants, and pottery makers, we even visited a leather boutique.

Dharavi
Dharavi
Dharavi
Dharavi
Mumbai

As we walked further and further inside the labyrinth walls of the Dharavi slums, getting a glimpse of people’s homes – one room for sleeping, eating, cooking and rest that a whole family shares, we started to be greeted by so many sweet little faces.  The local kids.  And my goodness are they cute!  Especially those in their school uniforms, that were dressed to perfection, looking every bit as smart as any private school kid does here in London.

One thing that stood out as we walked through Dharavi was the happiness of people.  Smiling faces everywhere.  It was the first time it dawned on me just how first world my life is, and everyone around me in UK or New Zealand.  We want, want, want, and moan, moan, moan, and yet here I was witnessing happy people who lived with their whole family in a space smaller than my sitting room.  I witnessed this exact same moment over and over again throughout my trip in India, and it definitely gets you thinking about what’s important in life.

India
India
Dharavi

Near the end of our tour through Dharavi, we stopped outside a house, which happened to be Mohammed’s family home.  It was such a privilege to be invited inside, and to experience his world.  It was there that Mohammed shared his story as to how a guy from Dharavi, who was destined to help his father with his shirt selling business, dreamed of a bigger life for himself.  There was a moment in his life where, in my opinion, it felt like fate intervened, setting Mohammed on a path to live his dreams.  He currently studies sociology at university, supporting himself through his tour business.    His story is amazing, his tour is amazing, and I cannot recommend it enough.  Please do yourself a favour if you’re in Mumbai and contact Mohammed, so he can share his fascinating world with you too.

Dharavi

Eat | Baked Banana Oatmeal

Baked Banana Oatmeal

Baked Banana Oatmeal

 

Happy New Year everyone! Wow, it’s been awhile since I’ve hung around here and written a blog post.  After I got back from India at the end of November, I tried to prioritise everything that needed doing on my to-do list, so blogging got pushed to the side for a bit!  Anyway, here I am, I’m back!  I hope you all had a lovely time over the festive season, and toasted 2017 with a glass of champagne on New Years Eve.  I’m glad to see the page turn over to 2018, and I’m determined to make this a year of bravery, continuing to feel the fear and go for my goals, and to create a happy chapter of my life.

Baked Banana Oatmeal

We’re in the depths of winter here in the UK, though I really haven’t found it all that miserable.  Working from home the majority of the time can be a lonely set up, especially when the days are short and dark over these next few months, and the only person you talk to all day is yourself.  But I’ve been getting out every afternoon, grabbing my longboard – I’m literally obsessed – and skating down the road to grab a coffee whilst working on my laptop.

The other thing that gets me through these colder months is really delicious food.  I find myself reaching for my cookbooks more, flicking through the pages, and finding recipes that look tasty and belly warming.  This Baked Banana Oatmeal recipe is exactly that, super delicious and a warm breakfast treat that I like to top with coconut yoghurt.  I used gluten free oats, so it’s adaptable for both gluten and non-gluten eaters, and I sliced up the leftovers, wrapping each piece separately in cling film and freezing it.

I hope you enjoy making and eating this as much as I did! Happy eating! x

Baked Banana Oatmeal

Eat | Baked Banana Oatmeal
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
 
Ingredients
  • 200g rolled oats
  • 2 lightly beaten eggs
  • 1 grated apple with skin on (I used bramley or granny smith)
  • 310ml coconut cream
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 50g light brown sugar (or coconut sugar)
  • ¼ tsp ground nutmeg
  • 2 ripe bananas cut into thin slices
Instructions
  1. Preheat the oven to 180c.
  2. Generously grease an oven proof dish.
  3. Mix all the ingredients, except for the banana, together in a large bowl.
  4. Pour in half the mixture, top with half of the sliced bananas, and then add the remaining batter, again topping that with the remaining banana.
  5. Sprinkle over a teaspoon of sugar.
  6. Bake for 45 minutes until golden on top.
  7. Leave to cool for around 15 minutes before serving.

 

Baked Banana Oatmeal

Eat | Gluten Free Apple Cider Donuts Recipe

Gluten free apple cider donuts

Gluten free apple cider donuts

 

Gluten free apple cider donuts

 

Hooray for Autumn!  The cosy nights in, soft blankets to pull up around you, whilst you sip warm cider and binge watch Netflix.  But wait there’s something missing.  You’ve got the cider, but you’re missing the Gluten Free Apple Cider Donuts!

These donuts are suuuuuper easy to make, they’re fall apart soft, with just a hint of apple cider, and that delicious combo of cinnamon and sugar.  I made a batch, and put the remaining donuts in the freezer, where I constantly find myself reaching into, grabbing one and warming it up, to have as a snack. I recommend using the flour blend I use, to ensure they actually rise, and don’t taste like cardboard (which is the case for so many gluten free bakes!).  You can find the link to the flour blend I use here.

Us gluten free lot get used to missing out on delicious cakes and bakes, but I was determined not to miss out on Gluten Free Apple Cider Donuts!  And you shouldn’t too.  AND the gluten eating lot will never be able to tell the difference, I promise!

Happy baking, and Happy Autumn!

Annmaree x

Gluten free apple cider donuts

Eat | Gluten Free Apple Cider Donuts Recipe
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 12-15 donuts
 
Ingredients
  • 210g gluten free flour (I recommend using the flour blend I make at home)
  • ½ tsp xanthan gum (leave it out if your flour blend already contains it)
  • 1½ tsp baking powder
  • ¼ tsp baking soda
  • ¼ tsp cream of tartar
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • ¼ tsp ground nutmeg
  • 150g caster sugar
  • 84g unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 2 eggs at room temperature, beaten
  • 178ml apple cider
  • extra cinnamon & sugar to roll the doughnuts in
Instructions
  1. Preheat your oven to 163°C.
  2. Grease a donut pan and set it aside.
  3. Mix the flour, xanthan gum, baking powder, baking soda, ground cinnamon, cream of tartar, nutmeg and sugar in a large bowl.
  4. Add the butter, eggs and cider, and mix to combine.
  5. Spoon the donut batter into the donut pan until they are each around ⅔ of the way full.
  6. Place the pan in the centre of the oven and bake for around 8 minutes, until the tops of the doughnuts spring back when pressed.
  7. Allow the donuts to cool for a few minutes,
  8. Make some cinnamon sugar by mixing the two together in a bowl, then dipping the donuts in to cover both sides.
  9. Keep in a sealed container. They're also suitable for freezing.

 

Gluten free apple cider donuts

 

Gluten free apple cider donuts