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14 hours train ride to Kochi

12th April 2018

I got myself on a 14 hour train from Goa down to Kochi (or Cochin), to spend the day exploring. I had a week spare to take a look around the area of Kerala in the South West of the country, before I had to fulfill my India visa requirement of exiting the country every 180 days.

Arriving at 4am I grabbed an auto rickshaw (tuk tuk) straight to my hotel, where I managed to catch an hour sleep and then up and at’em as I had no time to waste.

I’d always wanted to visit the famous Chinese fishing nets, which look like mechanical monsters looming over the waters, ready the clamp their giant jaws down on any passing fish. Now as much as they are extremely majestic and were once very capable contraptions, they are primarily there now just for tourist pictures. Bored looking old men each taking it in turns to set their net about performing for the photographers…… not one fish in sight when I was there. However, they are undeniably a remarkable feat of engineering, especially when you think they were introduced over 500 years ago and if it wasn’t for the lack of fish due to the bigger fishing boats catching everything out to sea, they’d still be bringing in the catch of the day.

Chinese fishing nets at Fort Kochi

Next stop was a short tuk tuk ride away to one of the oldest, still working traditional hand wash laundry complexes, Dhobi Khana. Here you will find local elderly Kochi Tamil men and women from families that have worked here since 1720’s, working tirelessly all day, everyday. Clothes are washed in one of the 42 concrete cubicles, where lungi clad men scrub and bash the clothes clean over a concrete washing stone, they are then air dried in the sun. It’s then over to the ironing section, where I met a wonderful lady who at 82 years old was wielding one of the ancient, incredibly big and heavy irons, pressing everything with sharp, crisp lines. She showed me that these are still heated using charcoal or burning coconut shells, as they’ve done for centuries.

Traditional hand washing

Traditional ironing. Shoulders like a wrestler!

Short ride away and tucked down a little side street, we raced past a sign for handloom sarees. Shouting ‘stop’ to my driver, who managed to perform a rather back juddering 180 degree skid to halt, I jumped out and went in search of the owner.

Sadly the workshop was closed for the day, however the lovely owner opened up to show me the looms. She set about showing me how these rather complicated looking foot pedal machines worked and it was mesmerising to see it in action. The sound of the clacking wood back and forth and the whoosh of the spindle as she flung it all the way across the 2 metre expanse of material was hypnotic.

Traditional handloom

Taking anywhere between 2-3 weeks to make, depending on how intricate the design, you can understand why these sarees cost that little bit extra. And with the challenge of huge factories with hundreds of machines, working day and night to produce something, which it has to be said are nowhere near as beautiful as the handloom versions, families are struggling to compete.

The end results are beautiful

Next stop was food, a nice cold beer as it was about 34 degrees and humid as hell and then to get a good nights sleep ready for my private taxi tour around the surrounding Kochi area in the morning ….. Zzzzzzzz

Jules

 

Lifestyle Ramblings Travel

50 shades of … traveling underwear!

22nd March 2018

You’re a long-term traveler when your underwear mutates to various lifeless shades of grey and beige. The excitement of laundry day, getting back fresh, semi-clean clothes is the highlight of any travelers day!

But imagine taking that laundry day excitement and multiplying it by 10, when I realised that an hour drive away is a good old British institution, Marks and Spencer, with new underwear.

It doesn’t matter how many times I’ve washed or soaked said underwear, I still end up sporting the latest fashion of murky tones. Bras after 48 hours soaking in strong detergent proved unsuccessful, so you can understand my overwhelming joy at the prospect of new, clean underwear.

So, armed with a selection of black, pink and coffee-coloured underwear, it is out with the offensive and in with the new clean items of pure delight.

India has many many rituals, ranging from the strange to the outright dangerous, but I couldn’t find one for the sacrifice of disgusting coloured bras, funnily enough! For a split second I did think that I really shouldn’t just throw them away, as I could donate them, but seriously that would just been down-right rude.

Now I’m not about to start another bra burning feminist movement, but I can think of no better way to say ‘good-bye’ to my trusty, grubby friends. So let the burning commence.

A small range of India’s unusual rituals found on Google:

Walking on fire; Originating in Tamil Nadu, the practice of Theemithi is part of a larger ceremony. The festival of Theemithi is a celebration of Draupadi, wife of the Pandavas. After the Battle of Kurukshetra, Draupadi walked across a bed of fire and emerged unscathed. Theemithi is a re-enactment of the same, and is believed to grant a wish or blessing by the goddess.

Baby tossing; Practised in India for years by both, Hindus and Muslims. At Baba Umer Dargah, Maharashtra, babies are dropped from a height of approx. 50 feet, and caught in a sheet held by waiting men. A similar custom is observed at the Sri Santeswar temple near Indi, in the state of Karnataka. This ritual has been followed for over 700 years and is believed to bring prosperity to the family (and probably give heart attacks to the weak!).

Hanging by hooks; This ‘art form’ performed in Kerala’s Kali temples is as captivating as it is toe-curling. Dancers dress up as Garuda, the vehicle of Lord Vishnu who quenched the goddess Kali’s thirst with blood after slaying Darika the demon. After a dance performance, they hang like eagles (Garudan Thookam) from a pole, by hooking the flesh on their backs! These hanging ‘ Garudas ‘ are paraded around the city. This ritual is carried out on Makara Bharani Day and Kumbha Bharani Day.

Safe to say disposing of my grubby underwear seems pale in comparison – Gotta love India 🙂

Image size for one of my bras would be too large and probably crash my site! So instead here is a beautiful pic of Irfan, a cute local boy that I have been teaching English and swimming to.

Irfan - Arambol

The adorable Irfan, the happiest little boy I’ve ever met ♥

Jules

 

Destinations Lifestyle Ramblings Travel

Travel and the honeymoon phase

7th February 2018
Travel to Querim Beach, North Goa

Easy to relax on peaceful Querim Beach, North Goa

 

It’s been just over three months of full time travel …….. and my love affair with this chapter of my life has been invigorating!

January has already gone and my 2018 travels have begun in the most relaxed way. I saw in the New Year and my birthday in the vibrant popular tourist destination and travelers party haven Arambol, North Goa.

With a wonderful free spirited hippie-type vibe Arambol is a place where you easily get swallowed up in the laid back lifestyle and find that you have suddenly stayed for a lot longer than you anticipated. My planned 2 weeks has already turned into 5 weeks and I’m now calling my wonderful guest house ‘home’. However, beach life certainly doesn’t lend itself to being productive, hence the radio silence with the blog, social media etc.

Sounds crazy to you lovely people reading this blog, but I kinda needed to stop and take a holiday …. please don’t hate me for that statement. I know how blessed I am to be leading this lifestyle I have chosen for myself. So I have given myself a bit of a talking to, pulled my finger out of the proverbial and fired up the trusty laptop.

I’ve been reading lots of travelers’ blogs lately to get some writing inspiration. I have total admiration for their hard work and dedication to their passion of traveling and writing. Almost every day they are posting their latest pics, that arguably wouldn’t look out of place in the travel section of National Geographic or the fashion section of Vogue. Writing wonderful blog posts about their seemingly glamorous jet-setting life and exciting adventures in foreign lands. They make it look so effortless, banging out one great blog post after another and taking pics that world class photographers would be proud of.

The reality of life on the road is somewhat different and I’m sure they all started with similar feelings of ‘crap, this is more work than I envisioned’.

As a newbie on the outskirts of the blogger world I now appreciate that they work really bloody hard at what they do.  I remember from previous long term traveling that the honeymoon phase will waiver. The mind will crave some sort of routine and that’s where my blogging will become my passionate affair to my steady travel relationship. I say that statement fully aware that I’m going to have to put a hell of a lot of time and effort into making it anywhere close to the inspirational bloggers out there.

Right now, like the early days of a new relationship, I’m enjoying the intoxicating lust for my new travel lifestyle, but I vow to find my blogging rhythm amidst my new mind-blowing love affair 🙂

Click here to read how my love affair with travel and India began.

Jules
Travel to Arambol Beach

Everyday sights on a morning wander along Arambol beach

Destinations Food Lifestyle Ramblings Travel

Chai and chilies on the streets of Jaipur

22nd December 2017

Nobody that has visited the Pink City can deny that Jaipur is a beautiful place, with the blush of the sandstone buildings captivating you at every turn. The obvious tourist places; Pink Palace, Amer Fort, Hawa Mahal (image above) etc are so crowded with people, cameras raised for selfies I couldn’t really get a feel for Jaipur and it’s people.

So I asked Ishak, my amazing tuk-tuk driver to drop me off at the hopefully tourist free market area. I found myself in the middle of what could only be described as a crazy hectic shopping scene from Black Friday. Ishak wagged his head, gave me his cheeky smile said ‘you crazy lady, you ok on own?’

Ishak needn’t have worried, or attempted to secretly follow me to make sure I was safe (he was crap at hiding!) as people could not have been more friendly. Convincing Ishak that I was safe, I was left to wander through the markets.

Immediately your senses are on fire; carts piled high with fragrant herbs, spices & dried chilies for sale, men cooking up the popular and delicious street food Pani Puri (crispy fried dough balls stuffed with potato, sprouts, spicy flavoured water and sweet chutney). The sparkle from the shops selling the over-the-top bling bangles the women love to wear, the aroma of burning incense coming from all directions to the vibrant colours of the sari shops, I found myself totally immersed, and then totally lost!

The next few hours I wandered through the tourist free streets, criss-crossing the markets, alive with the hustle and bustle and incessant horn blowing. I was surrounded by people just going about their daily life. Stopping to take a picture of a group of gentlemen drinking tea, I was soon instructed with huge smiles to sit and enjoy the sweet masala chai with them. We were soon surrounded by many locals who seemed to be loving the fact that a western woman was sitting drinking chai with them in the backstreets of Jaipur. We spent a fun half hour looking through my photo’s of India and discussing life in broken English.

Chai Jaipur

Chai on the street, Jaipur

Jaipur street treats …

Making my way back to Ishak, sellers were stopping me, surprisingly not seeking a hard sell but just keen for me to sample local foods. In the space of 1 hour I enjoyed tasting the incredibly fiery stuffed fried chilies (mirchi vada – or ‘you’re going to regret this later’ chilies) and freshly cooked spicy vegetable samosa. I was then given the sweet and sickly, rot your teeth jaggery chunks (raw unrefined molasses and sugar cane), followed by the delicious refreshing fennel seed usually given after meals to aid digestion (saunf).

Street chilies

Mirchi Vada chilies

Jaggery

Sweet Jaggery

Saunf

Saunf – fennel seed to aid digestion

I left the market streets with a bag of juicy baby coconut to see me through the rest of the day and a paper cone filled with fennel, as worryingly my stomach was now doing some form of daring acrobatic movement after the mixture of spices!

So Jaipur, you are a beautiful city of many photo worthy pink tones, but it’s the people and the market that made this place special for me ….. and the Bhang Lassi that Ishak bought for me, which funnily enough settled my stomach and every other ache and pain I had!

Jules

 

 

Destinations Ramblings Travel

Maharishi Mahesh Yogi ashram or Beatles ashram visit

3rd December 2017

A must do for anyone traveling to Rishikesh is a visit to the famous Beatles Ashram.

After being attracted to the meditation and teachings of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in London, the fab four were invited for an 8 week pilgrimage during 1968, to immerse themselves in learning transcendental meditation and to become his disciples. The ashram closed it’s doors in 1997 and it was soon forgotten. Left to nature and the surrounding forest up until a couple of years ago, the Uttarakhand Forestry department opened it’s gates to tourism. It is hoped that monies raised from the entrance fee go toward restoring this beautiful and important site back to its former glory.

Wandering round the former ashram I felt like I was in a forgotten world. Beehive shaped meditation caves made from river rocks that have been taken over by the undergrowth, the sounds of the birds in the trees and the river Ganga flowing below, it felt almost magical. Amongst the ruins I stumbled upon stunning pieces of graffiti artwork, painted by a variety of invited street artists over the years. Many of the paintings were done in honour of the fab four and their time in Rishikesh.

Yes, it would be an amazing place to restore, but I kinda love it the way it is!

Here are some pics from my trek through the ruins…
Beatles ashram, Rishikesh

Graffiti art, Beatles ashram

Beatles ashram, Rishikesh

Meditation caves, Beatles ashram

Beatles ashram, Rishikesh

Nature taking over the meditation caves, Beatles ashram

Beatles ashram, Rishikesh

Graffiti, Beatles cave

Beatles cave, Rishikesh

Graffiti, Beatles cave

Beatles ashram, Rishikesh

Graffiti, Beatles ashram

Beatles ashram, Rishikesh

Graffiti, Beatles ashram

Beatles ashram, Rishikesh

Graffiti, Beatles ashram

Jules

Destinations Lifestyle Travel

I leave my heart and tears in Rishikesh

26th November 2017

Rishikesh and its people will steal your heart, I guarantee.

Take the time to stop and sit on the Ghats by Ram Jhula and take in the majestic mountains behind you and the calming beauty of the river as it quickly flows by. Worshipped by the name Ganga Maiya (Mother Ganga) and Gangajal (Ganga = Ganges; jal = water) the waters are believed to wash away all sins and grant the devotee salvation.

Ganges Rishikesh

Ganga, Ghats and Ram Jhula bridge

Whilst seated, contemplating life and watching locals worship and give thanks to Mother Ganga, I was joined by a Sadhu Baba (holy person who has renounced worldly life), who had quite possibly the wisest looking face I’ve ever come across. He told me through miming and elaborate hand gestures how special Mother Ganga was to the people and what offering a blessing to her does for your soul … at least I think that’s what he was going on about! Anyway, he obviously thought I had listened well as he gave me a flower to offer Mother Ganga, blessed me with a red bindi dot on the forehead, clasped his hands together and bowed his head before wandering off. Now I’m definitely not a religious or particularly spiritual person, but taking the time to sit and ponder his story I found myself with tears in my eyes making my way down to Mother Ganga. Placing the flower gently on the cold, clear water, I looked skyward and finally say goodbye to someone very dear that I’d lost a couple of years ago. I allowed the tears to flow for a few minutes and then being typically stiff-upper-lip British, brushed myself down, wiped my eyes and walked away, but now with a sense of calm and thanks for the international language of miming.

Street Baba Rishikesh

Wise face of a Sadhu Baba

Every evening, as dusk descends and the temperature drops, it’s time for the Ganga Aarti (devotional ritual that uses fire as an offering) to be performed on the river banks at three holy cities throughout India; Haridwar, Rishikesh and Varanasi. Whilst the Aarti attracts hundreds of people from all over India and indeed all over the world, it is said that the ritual held on the steps of the Ghats at Parmarth Niketan in Rishikesh is the most authentic, intimate and relaxed. The performance takes place on the steps around a fire, with a Vedic priest chanting mantras, the singing of devotional bhajans and the reciting of prayers, all supported by the beating of drums, clanging of bells and the beautiful voices of brahmin boys that are studying to become priests at the Parmath Nikethan Ashram. This is followed by offerings made to Agni, the fire god. The evening I attended was a special occasion as a guest priest from Israel was in attendance, so all taking part were elaborately dressed in their finest. The brahmin boys shrouded in red and saffron robes were seated on the steps forming a pathway from the priest down to Ganga. Perched on low tables at the front were boys with ornate brass diyas that were lit and passed around to light individual diyas held by worshippers. The fire is worshipped by performing the purification blessing of cupping downturned hands and then placing hands to the eyes and forehead. The diyas are then raised high facing the deity of God (or divine element; Ganga) and slowly offered in clockwise circular motion to Ganga. Devotees then place Puja (devotional worship offerings) in the form of small leaf baskets, filled with rice, flowers and a lit candle on Ganga and watch it float away with their prayers.

Brahmin Ganga Aarti Rishikesh

Brahmin boys with Diyas Ganga Aarti Rishikesh

Puja offering Ganga Rishikesh

Puja Ganga Aarti Rishikesh

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After the ceremony you have just got to cross Ram Jhula bridge and visit the open air traditional cooking oven, where they make the best chapati and vegetable pakora. But be prepared to sit and wait as it’s so good it is surrounded by locals getting their ‘take out’.

Street oven Rishikesh

Take away chapati and pakora – delicious

Rishikesh is also famous for its bridge called Laxman Jhula which is suspended over Ganga and stretches approx 400ft connecting the Tehri and Pauri districts. The other suspension bridge, Ram Jhula is slightly further down river and both being no more than 5 feet in width are a hive of activity with tourists, cows, monkeys, mopeds and fruit carts continuously back and forth. Whilst this is an experience in itself, dodging the horns of the cows, holding tightly to your bag so the monkeys don’t make a run for it with your belongs, the hardest part as a blonde white female is running the gauntlet of Indian men wanting you in their photograph, like you are something freaky from a circus. You soon get the hang of strategically placing your hand over part of your face to thwart the secret selfies with you in it and smile knowingly at their eager faces.

Located at one end of Laxman Jhula is the 13 storied holy shrine, Trayambakeshwar Temple, which holds ornate carvings of many Hindu deities as you make your way up the 13 floors. Not only do visitors flock to view the statues and reach the top to receive a blessing, but the view of Rishikesh either side of the Ganga is stunning and well worth the many steps.

13 story temple Laxman Jhula Rishikesh

13 story Trayambakeshwar Temple and Laxman Jhula bridge

What better way to start your day than to climb to the top of a mountain to watch the sunrise. Ok, I say climb, it was actually about 40 mins in a taxi and then 10 mins hike up 150 steps (yes, I counted) to the Kunjapuri Temple at a height of 1645 metres (yes, I asked). Panoramic views of Himalaya mountains, river Ganga below and the terraced fields of local farmers is simply breathtaking…. But just wait until the sun starts to rise and break through the peaks of the mountains to see it’s true beauty. Well worth the 4am start 🙂

Kunjapuri temple sunrise Rishikesh

Sunrise from Kunjapuri Temple Rishikesh

There is so much to Rishikesh, it is so much more than the yoga capitol it is famous for. The sights, sounds and smells will capture you.

Rishikesh you have my heart forever and I will return one day 💕

Jules

Destinations Ramblings Travel

Sensory overload of Delhi

11th November 2017
Ohmyramblings Delhi smog

‘Breath of death’ smog. Terminal is there somewhere!

Namaste from Delhi!

Landed in Delhi late due to the rather unnerving ‘breath of death’ smog that has shrouded Delhi for past few days. Now when I say landed, I’m pretty certain up in the cockpit it went something like this… “I’m blind, I’m blind, I can’t see a f’ing thing” … tarmac, bounce, skid, “crap, hit the brakes!”

“Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to India.”

A seamless race through immigration, clapping my hands together and repeating Namaste to every airport personnel on my dash to baggage claim, hauling my worldly possessions I jumped aboard the bus to another terminal for my connecting flight.

Now, being an India newbie friends alert you to a few things; DON’T drink the water, NEVER trust a fart and be prepared for chest staring from almost every male you come across. Picture the scene if you will*; a windowless bus traveling at breakneck speed through the streets of Delhi seemingly dropping off and picking up whenever the driver felt like it, potholes that the moon would be proud of, me being the only female aboard and a rather sizeable chest that I’ve been (un)fortunate enough to be endowed with! The ‘gentlemen’ didn’t attempt to hide the gawking stares, even when I made obvious eye contact. I was met with roguish grins and head wobbles all around. What’s a ample chested woman meant to do? No idea, but a serious case of giggles and choosing to just ignore the admirers helped, but I swear I thought I was going to get a round of applause as I exited the bus.

I needn’t have endured the hair-raising bus trip, the pot hole chest jiggling or the staring as it turns out, because due to the ‘breath of death’ my flight to Dehradun was cancelled until the next day.

Shouting above the incessant honking horns to a very happy looking tuktuk driver for nearest hotel (not sure if it was the promise of a fare or a glance at my chest in his mirror that was making him smile!) but off we raced. “Namaste. Welcome to the Castle Blue Hotel miss” was the greeting from a little man who emanated Charlie Chaplain, in his disheveled black suit with trousers that looked like he stole them from his child and walking stick that he kicked as he waddled along. After viewing my room, hiding my smiling about the Chaplain images in my mind, the place was certainly not a ‘Castle’ or even ‘Blue’ so after negotiating the price from INR3,000 (approx. £35/$45) to INR1,300 (approx. £15/$20) I was happy to be able to crash for the night.

Next stop Dehradun and Rishikesh…

Namaste.

Jules

*You were hoping for a tragic fart story weren’t you? Sicko’s!

Lifestyle Ramblings Travel

A grand adventure is about to begin…

10th October 2017

Sold everything, bought the one way ticket.

The thing that scares me the most is the age old adage of coming to the end and having regrets. So this next chapter of my life is me letting go of society’s expectation of what is deemed a normal life, taking the leap and living my life, my way.

September 2017 saw me quit my job, sell my apartment, my jeep, all my belongings and deal with leaving family and friends to prepare myself for a life of travel – all quite scary, but also very liberating.

I did the usual round-the-world backpacking trip over 20 years ago (wow, where did those years go!) where I bought the standard RTW ticket, followed the usual backpacker route, had to find a payphone to call home, posted the rolls of film home to be developed and actually put pen to postcard to keep people up to date on my travels. Times have certainly changed, I now have the latest MacBook Pro, a dual sim mobile phone, a Go-Pro Hero 5, a Ricoh GRii camera and all the social media platforms one now uses to stay in touch or post your latest ‘selfie’!

In life we sometimes just go through the motions, acclimatised to the day-to-day hum drum that our life has become. I want to feel alive and excited by life and new experiences and not have my inner voice questioning my purpose for being on this earth, wondering if this is my lot in life. I’m going to follow my dream of venturing to far flung corners of the earth, find out for myself what this amazing planet and its inhabitants has to offer, wake up each day with a childlike wonder and excitement for the unknown. And through my journey across the miles, my inner voice will calm it’s restless chatter and I’ll truly be satisfied with my lot.

Yes, I am nervous about what a life on the road will be like, but I’m more nervous about what my life will be if I don’t take that first flight and just go for it.

Life is short and it’s time for a new adventure, so buckle up and join me for the ride.

Jules