Thursday, 25 June 2015


The huge cosmopolitan city of Bangalore is home to some six million people and the hub of India’s booming IT industry.  Fortunately though, in the surge of urban development some care has been taken to preserve some green space and the city’s colonial heritage.  This is evident in the large Cubbon Park which is home to the attractive red-painted Gothic style State Library and High Court buildings.  Behind the court is the massive Vidhana Soudha building with the amusing inscription on the front reading “Government Work is God’s Work”.  I’ll let you judge for yourself if this is true!

Karnataka State Library, Cubbon Park

There are a few interesting museums in the city and I visited a couple of them.  The first was an Industrial and Technical Museum that was totally interactive.  So, it was time to release the child within and play with a large number of scientific exhibits.  There was an interesting display on the Wright Brothers and a replica of their plane the Kitty Hawk.  In their research on the first ever flight there is no mention of a New Zealander by the name of Richard Pearce though.

It’s been a big day today with a lot of walking.  The highlight was roaming through the huge Lalbagh Botanical Gardens that sprawl over an area of 96 acres.  That’s a lot of garden to maintain but it’s being done well and with an unusual absence of litter it’s a very pleasant place to visit.  The serenity here contrasted to the hectic pace of the City Market that I visited earlier.  I’m sure in its day it was more impressive but the small and rather ordinary Tipu Sultan’s Palace wasn’t worth the cost of admission.  The ornate temple adjacent to it was equally interesting and completely free. 

Vidhana Soudha

I visited a couple of other temples today where, being a Sunday, worshippers were out in force.  Strangely though, the cathedral was deserted and not even open.  So I went to the nearby cricket stadium and was met at the gate by two security guards who took their roles seriously.  They reluctantly let me take a photo from the gate and watched my every move.  I wonder what on earth they thought I was going to do!  I finished my day at the Government Museum and adjoining art gallery that had displays featuring ceramics, sculptures, paintings and a large model of the original city fort.   

So that’s it.  I’m not really sure how I’ve done it but I’ve managed to get though 24 days without the hint of the stomach problems that plagued my last trip through the subcontinent.  I lost 14kg on that particular adventure so I can only hope that things continue to go well for the next few weeks!

Lalbagh Botanical Gardens

My good health has contributed to a very enjoyable time here.  It’s been a great journey and included so many sights, sounds, smells, tastes and wonderful people.  It really is an extraordinary country that creates such enduring memories for all who come here.  While walking around on my very first day in Chennai I passed a busload of Korean tourists.  The words “Incredible India” were on the side of their bus.  I was reflecting on that last night and realised how true it is. 

But I couldn’t help wondering how ‘incredible’ it is being shuttled around in an air conditioned bus and staying in luxury hotels along the way.  Part of what makes India incredible is getting to the grassroots of the country through talking to the local people and understanding their culture.  Travelling on a budget naturally creates those opportunities and although there are discomforts involved, being insulated from them somehow wouldn’t be a complete experience.   

Words of wisdom on the Bangalore streets

Apart from all the wonderful sights I’ve seen, simple things that happen every day are what has made India incredible.  Getting sweaty and dusty walking traffic choked streets.  Haggling over the price of a rickshaw ride.  Dropping a couple of coins in the dirty hand of a beggar while waiting for a hopelessly overcrowded bus.  Asking directions from someone who speaks so quickly all you can do is nod, smile and say thanks.  Talking with young men who love cricket and girls that love men who love cricket.  Eating a meal and finding out just how relative the word ‘spicy’ is.

These are just a few of the things that make India what it is and I’m fortunate to have been given the opportunity to experience it again.  I can only trust now that Sri Lanka offers something similar...

Friday, 19 June 2015


Although it has a rather unfortunate name, the city of Mysore bowls you over with its flamboyant royal heritage and bustling markets.  After a five hour bus journey and finding accommodation there wasn’t much time for sightseeing but I did get to see places like the stately Government House (1805), Memorial Hall (1884), and the beautiful neo-Gothic cathedral built between 1933 and 1941.  I finished my day at the Devarjara Market which sells traditional items such as spices, sandalwood, incense and flower garlands that many women wear in their hair each day.

Spices of the Devarjara Market

The rail museum was an interesting diversion but the highlight of the city is undoubtedly the fantastic Mysore Palace.  It is among the grandest of India’s royal buildings and certainly one of the most amazing places I’ve visited.  The original palace was constructed of wood and gutted by fire in 1897.  The current one was completed in 1912 with no expense spared!  It was designed by an English architect in what is known as Indo-Saracenic style.  This means that there are several influences in the design such as Hindu and colonial European.

Mysore Cathedral

It is impressive from the outside but the interior is an absolute marvel of stained glass, mirrors, carved wooden doors (some with ivory inlay designs) and ceiling panels, beautiful paintings and mosaic floors.  Several rooms are adorned with a fine collection of furniture, sculptures and royal artefacts.  It’s one of the most lavish places I’ve ever been and a great insight into how the rulers of Mysore lived.  It seems they didn’t want for anything!  The palace administration of today is well organised with headsets available in several different languages for tourists at no additional charge.  That made the whole experience even better.

The magnificent Mysore Palace

I had an extra day up my sleeve so used it for a trip up Chamundi Hill which is the ever present landmark to the south of the city.  There is a large temple atop this hill but I found the whole place a bit of a tourist trap to be honest.  I refused to pay the exorbitant entry fee and admired the towering gopuram (entrance gate) from the outside.  I don’t imagine the inside could be that different to what I’ve already seen in south India.  I then made my escape before the roving vendors could ask if I wanted to buy any of their goods.
After getting the bus up the hill, I descended using the steps that many pilgrims use to get up to the temple.  About a third of the way down is a huge statue of the Hindu bull deity Nandi that was carved out of solid rock in 1659.  The walk was also interesting for those I encountered along the way.  There was a man singing for all he was worth as he made his way down and there were several people stooping to mark every step on the way up with a red powder.  There are 1,000 of them altogether so my guess is they reached the temple with a sore back!

Meeting the locals on Chamundi Hill

I visited an art gallery that displayed a range of masks with explanations on their significance to the cultures they belong to.  After that it was off to the Mysore Zoo which is set in pretty gardens on the edge of the city.  It dates from 1892 but has a reasonably modern feel to it.  Relatively speaking, the wide range of animals, birds and reptiles are in good enclosures and well cared for.  So, it was a pleasant way to conclude my time there and head to my final Indian destination of Bangalore.

Friday, 12 June 2015


What a lovely place Ooty is and after sweating though the southern lowlands of India it was nice to feel the fresh mountain air of this British hill station.  At an altitude of 2,240m, days only reach the low 20’s and nights are distinctly cold at this time of year.  The town itself is set around the aptly named Reflections Lake and the adjacent racecourse.  It’s certainly no Ascot or Flemington but horse racing here is apparently an event not to be missed if you get the chance.

Reflections Lake, Ooty

The first place I visited here was the extraordinary Thread Garden.  I didn’t quite know what to expect but it really is amazing.  It’s a ‘garden’ that has been created out of nothing but thread, canvas and wire and all by hand.  The work took 50 craftspeople 12 years to complete and the result is a stunning array of plants and flowers (150 species altogether) that look at a glance to be quite real.

Flowers of the extraordinary Thread Garden

In the town itself I went to St Stephen’s Church that was built in 1829 and features huge wooden beams that were hauled by elephants from some 120km away.  I finished my day at the very impressive Botanical Gardens which were a contrast to those I visited in Pondicherry.  Apart from being very well presented, there was also a fossilised tree trunk there that is believed to be about 20 million years old. 

The Centenary Rose Garden has a sign near the entrance proclaiming it to the ‘best rose garden in the world’.  Now, I’m no expert on the subject but I can emphatically say that it is not.  I’m sure it becomes more impressive later in the year when there are more blooms but right now it is rather ordinary and barely worth the cost of a ticket.  The superb views from the Doddabetta Lookout 9km from the town were much better and the hike back down took me through a pretty tea estate and also to a tea factory which doubled as an interesting museum.

Botanical Gardens

While I was at the factory, I suddenly began to feel light headed and a bit nauseous.  I had to sit down quickly because I felt like I was going to pass out.  I didn’t quite understand what was happening but then I realised…  I was at an altitude of about 2,600 metres above sea level and I was being affected by that.  Exactly the same thing happened to me when I was trekking in Nepal but on that occasion I did actually faint.  I do some things well but high altitude isn’t one of them I’m afraid!  I was fine after a while though and visited the Tribal Museum in a small village on the other side of Ooty.  It was here that I learnt about the lifestyle and culture of the six hill tribes that live in the Nilgiri area.

Best in the world?  No.

The journey from Ooty to Mysore is quite a ride if you don’t have a strong stomach.  There are plenty of tight corners and hairpin bends as we plunged some 1,500 metres in elevation.  The scenery changed from alpine forest to scrubby bush and palm trees dotting an arid landscape of brown fields.  It was warm again.  

Friday, 5 June 2015


Kochin is a favourite destination of many travellers because it’s a place to soak up some 600 years of history and in the quiet, leafy streets of the fort area enjoy some respite from the hustle of the big city.  It’s a place where you can still catch the aromatic smells of the past and in many places goats outnumber vehicles on the streets.  But before I could do any of that I had to find myself a place to stay.  I must have been to about ten guesthouses and had much the same reply: “sorry sir, the house is full”.  Either that or a shake of the head and I was on my way to the next place…

Santa Cruz Basilica, Fort Kochin

I finally found a nice little place very close to the boat that goes over to the fort peninsula.  The cost of this 10 minute ferry ride was a seemingly ridiculous five cents.  Although there was a Portuguese fort here centuries ago, its walls have long since disappeared.  The only remnants I saw were located downstairs in a small museum dedicated to church artefacts.  The other museum I visited in this area was the maritime one and relatively speaking, both have very well presented displays.

The church of St Francis is virtually a museum because it was originally built in 1503 and the edifice that stands today dates from the mid sixteenth century.  It contains the tomb of famous Portuguese adventurer Vasco da Gama who was buried there.  The nearby Santa Cruz Basilica also has about 500 years of history, although the current church was built in 1902.  

Chinese fishing nets

In the heat of the middle of the day I took some time out in the shade of a tree to watch the fishermen operating their huge Chinese nets.  This method of fishing was brought to India by merchant traders centuries ago and has remained basically unchanged in all that time.  After some lunch I walked across the peninsula to an area called Mattancherry.  In the Jew Town here I visited the Dutch Palace which today is a good museum that was a bargain for the ten cents admission fee!  Unfortunately the Jewish Synagogue was closed for their Sabbath day so I 
couldn’t visit. 

Jewish town, Mattancherry
From Kochin I did what will be the longest bus journey of this trip – eight hours in three buses to the town of Mettupayalam.  This was merely a stopover because early the next morning I was on the miniature train up the mountain to Ooty.  Very early in fact because I didn’t have a reserved ticket and had to arrive at the station at 5.30am in the hope of getting one for the 7am departure.  It was worth the effort to get a seat and the cost of the ticket was a whopping 20 cents!

Miniature railway to Ooty

The train has only three carriages and was awarded World Heritage status in 2005.  Being a mountain railway, the steam engine pushes rather than pulls the train so the front carriage leads the way.   The five hour journey offers fine views of pine forests, tea plantations, waterfalls and villages that seem to cling to the side of hills.  We passed through several quaint little stations where the engine was refilled with water and the passengers milled around taking photos and sharing their food with the resident monkeys.