Monday, 12 January 2009

Touts, tourists, temples and finally treats

It is fair to say that from the various transport modes that we have used over the last 5 weeks , the train was certainly the preferred option. However , the trains from Goa to Hampi only ran during the day and we weren't prepared to spend 12 hours of a day wasted , so the only option was the overnight bus. With flashbacks of our double sleeper cabin (which involvled close quaters and perhaps a touch of spooning) , the two of us exhausted all our options and finally decided that we were going to bite the bullet and try it once more , in the hope that the overnight bus could redeem itself.

We assembled around Chowdi - Canacona - waiting for the bus and the westerners were out in full force (this was a popular route). The bus arrived an hour and 10 mins late, but we were entertained by the locals , constantly asking if we'd prefer to hop on their motorbike to Hampi (8 hour overnight journey...thanks but no thanks). We hopped on to find that all was in order and after an initial worry that we had the double, we found our single sleepers and settled in. With stiff necks early morning, we arrived in Hampi to a lively bunch of touts ,springing up and down outside the still moving bus and guesthouse cards being lobbed into the bus, frantically trying to get our business. This is a fairly frightening experience , given that we'd just woken up and where not ready for it.

The usual banter with the rickshaw drivers ensued and we finally made our way over to Hospet to our hotel (we decided on lux...air-con and swimming pool). The morning was spent popping into town and outlining the following 2 days. Hampi was to be a cultural outing with much of the Hindu temples scattered within a 10km radius.

A view from Hampi bazaar

We opted for a scooter for the 2 days of adventure and always the rental process was painful , but we managed to come to a compromise with Hugo being close to breakdown point with the lack of flexibility from the locals. With terms and condition negotiated , we finally headed off and had our freedom. We admired the rocky terrains, with the historic temples dotted in between under a sweltering heat. A few coconuts were purchased en route , washing was done and returned (although Hugo only realised later the following day that it was still wet), interesting car washing facilites were observed...a pool of water under a bridge was transformed into a carwash, deep tissue shoulder and back massages were had in a local's house and the pool facilites in the hotel were second to none.

The Hospet Carwash (all vehicles accepted)

A brief stop in Hampi, but insightful nonetheless and full of fond memories again. Our final overnight train journey was ahead of us from Hospet to Bangalore. The light was deteriorating, but again we gathered the crowds around for a quick game of cricket.

Banagalore was our Western treat....2 days of chilling, contemplating what we'd seen and done over the previous 5 weeks and enjoying the comforts of the shopping mall. A double header of Madagascar 2 and Australia was had in the cinema. We induldged in fresh juices, ice-creams, shopping, great coffee, newspapers and more movies the following was needed and our early flight to Delhi couldn't come any sooner. We were going back to where it had all begun on the 1st December 2008. The Viru was going home...

Saturday, 3 January 2009

Dreaming of Goa....

Time to relax and enjoy the famous Goan beaches.

We were picked up by Geraud at Canacona train station - confusingly called Chaudi by the locals - and taken to his Om Sai lodge. Hot showers in our deluxe, executive twin room awaited us but of course our 'twin' was a double. 'No problem sir, this bed big enough for two'. We were momentarily bemused why he was prepared to give us a room each but we soon understood the next day. His rates were about three times higher than comparable lodges! We moved hostel but this wasn't the last we were to see of Geraud in Goa.

Palolem may once have been a peaceful, hippyish fishing village but it's not now. It has a nice beach but is also full of English package tourists and Israelis who have just finished their National Service. Not two groups of people you necessarily want to spend Christmas and New Year with. So we hired scooters and decided to explore a bit and find somewhere else to stay. We visited Agonda and Varca beaches, both beautiful and in Varca's case totally empty.

We moved to Agonda, much more our scene. Little did we know that Geraud from Om Sai in palolem owned the lodge next door to the beach huts we rented. Not only that but he took great pleasure in popping in every day and telling our new hosts - his best friends - how much he had charged us! Clown.

Let me introduce our hosts: Nilesh and Sameer.
With Nilesh

Two very hospitable jokers. Believe it or not, Goa is very cold at night at this time of year and after our first night we asked for a blanket, to which Nilesh responded 'How many nights staying', which was a thinly veiled attempt to work out if it was worth his while investing in blankets . When we told him we weren't sure how long we might stay, he told us 'blanket, maybe tomorrow. No problem'! Actually, that response was peddled out 6 days on the trot!

He was very friendly though throughout our stay, he even stroked my stomach when I told him I was feeling a little unwell. Tha was probably a bit too friendly as his sexualtiy was definitely in question.

Our huts were very rustic but perfect: light, fan, double bed, mozzie net and three quid a night. Taht said, they were were next to a dumping ground which attracted every farmyard animal. Waking up to chickens, cows, dogs and pigs eating scraps next to our huts was a daily experience!
Now we're both friendly guys and thought we'd chat to the lonely looking Japanese girl over lunch on our second day. Well, she was sort of Japanese. Her parents were from Kyoto but she was brought up in Canada and presently living in London. Interesting story and background. Dan, lucky man, got to hear this story twice but it's not quite what you're thinking.

He woke up later that night to hear his Israeli neighbour playing serenading someone with his guitar. A bit annoyed about being woken, he was wondering when he could ask them to be quiet when he heard, ' I'm Canadian Japanese but living in London"...Sleeping now wasn't an option as there was ammunition to be collected. However, the Israeli's chat was poor and his kind offer of a bed for the night was refused!

As you can imagine cricket dominated our stay in Goa. Our days usually started at Bobby's place - Ashanti - to watch the SA V Aus Test atch. His brilliant staff eventually realised that we were a bunch of jokers. . 'I'm understanding joking sir' was my favourite response!

However, the real highlight was playing beach cricket with with Bhaji, Lucky (real name), Tom and a slection of his 6 brothers and the rest. This happened everyday from 4.30pm until sunset when the chilled Kingfisher beers would be rolled out by Nilesh.

Late afternoon cricket with the boys

Nobody likes to carry cash on the beach and Bobby, Nilesh and the banana lady (Dan had to step in again to help me understand how much her bananas were!) were fine with us running tabs but when we realised we didn't have nearly enough money to settle our debts we headed to the bank in Chaudi.

We decided to use this trip as a chance to indulge in a bit of health tourism and visit the dentist. My teeth were fine apart from the ever expanding Chai stains but the lovely dentist - who subsequently let us use her clinic as a waiting room before our bus to Hampi - informed Dan know that he needed a filling. Today wasn't really going very well for Dan who had earlier visited a seemingly blind barber for his second shave in India. The cavity filled, it was time for the bill - ten pounds for the check-up, white filling and clean and polish!

One of the thing Goa is renowned for is beach parties and we were looking forward to dancing the night away on New year's Eve. We started the night drinking champagne and red bull chargers and went in search of the action. We jumped in to a rickshaw and trawled the places we'd been told would be lively but it seemed the police had other ideas... A bit disappointing but still managed to enjoy the evening.

Goan food was delicious and as you'd imagine involded a lot of fresh seafood: squid, prawns, kingfish, barracuda, coconut fish - what? really?- and tuna. Actually let's not discuss the tuna sandwich I ordered!

Next stop: Hampi.

Thursday, 1 January 2009

Kool Kerala

Time to cruise the Keralan Backwaters in a 'lux' houseboat but before that we needed to sort our train tickets for that journey and to Goa for Christmas....Yes, more 'lining please' but I suppose if you've got to queue you may as well do it the Indian way which involves sitting in a long line of chairs and shifting along everytime the queue moves forward.....As always actually getting what we wanted wasn't possible. The train to Kerala was already on it's way and so we could reserve tickets for when it arrived at our station. Instead we had to buy an open ticket and hope we could find a seat... Well we had hope at least....false hope as it turned out but we were oblivious to that so we had dinner and watched more cricket highlights!
The train pulled in a couple of hours late but we'd happily passed the time chatting to 'Frenchie' who we'd met in Ooty. We jumped on and started our quest for a seat, which didn't looking promising if the first two carriages were anything to judge by. Our progress along the train was being hampered by grannies and chai sellers pushing their way past us and more amusingly every other person stopping Dan to touch the Viru cricket bat. No jokes, they just wanted to stroke it! It was almost as though we were carrying the Holy Shroud of Turin, not a two quid bat from Delhi....
We were beginning to despair after walking through nine or ten carriages when we hit the train's kitchens and a nearly empty compartment. Too good to be true?? Of course it was....It was being used as a food storage area and despite our best efforts to talk the kitchen porters in to letting us stay we were booted in to a hot sweaty corridor. There was only one solution - to sit in the open doorway, Indian style... Who needs an air con seat anyway?
There were two memorable moments on that ride, both involving Hugo and a very fat pilgrim dressed in black who spoke no English.... After an hour in the doorway, he asked if he could stand in the doorway for 5 mins to dry his soaking wet trousers. Seems he'd taken to opportunity to do his washing! About an hour later he returned and asked Hugo which was the next station. How the hell would he know? Does really look like a train spotter? But telling him I had no idea seemed to confuse the poor man further.

The purpose of this leg of the trip was to cruise the backwaters on one of the beautiful houseboats but as a boat for the two was beyond our means we were 'joining' with a Saffa family we'd met the day before ....It was a lovely boat and a very relaxing trip but not one of the 'ten things you must do before you die' as described by the book.

The Keralan backwaters

The food however was probably the best we'd eaten in India; a range of delicious vegetable coconut curries and sauces eaten off a banana leaf with your fingers and washed down with a cold 'Super Premium' beer although it wasn't beer but more likely home brew gin.

The Keralan boat cuisine - tastier than it looks!

Refreshed and recharged it was time for the epic 24 hour journey to Goa but first dinner in Fort Cochin with the Saffas..

We arrived at 6pm, having gone with the Super Xpress bus from Allepey and a driver who didn't mess around. This time we sat up front and had a full view of what was approaching us. There was more than one occasion of hard braking and whiplash but we got there in the end. A quick ferry journey across the river and we were in Cochin and ready to spend a few relaxing hours checking out old cathedrals and churches - the Portuguese influence was certainly apparent and we walked past the church where Vasco da Gama was first buried.

We met the South African family near the Chinese fishing nets. These massive contraptions are manned by about 4 men and are a huge nets to scoop up fish. We strolled along and admired the various fish stalls...fresh fish, amazing tiger prawns, lobster, crab, red snapper, kingfish, name it. The fishermen are all over you, offering deals for platters by the kg - a bit like Borough Market without the pretentiousness. You buy your fresh selection and someone takes you over to a nearby stall where they cook it for you....brilliant. We take king prawns and squid, lightly dusted with Masala spice and some garlic and butter.

We pulled up some seats and waited in the queue for our seafood to be prepared. This was a popular joint and Dan suggested a couple of beers for the wait... A few minutes later Dan was back with a wrapped up parcel and some water...the Kingfisher waiting to be cracked open and escape the newspaper wrapping. It nearly ended in tears...the quest for the Kingfisher lager had us answering to the police. In Cochin you are not allowed to drink in public and the vendor should've told us. Hugo took a slug out of the beer just as a car approached, it was the police and in trying to be subtle by lowering the paper parcel, he only confirmed the driver's suspicions. They halted and quizzed him about it, whilst Dan was checking on the food. Another officer stood alongside side me cursing the vendor and soon afterwards a kid started cleaning as if he was closing up. Now, police or no police we had been waiting 40 mins for our seafood and there was no way Dan was going to let them shut it down before our feast. After a few minutes of pleading and arguing our case I convinced him to keep it open so he could finish our was a close call , we still finished the Kingfisher off and stumbled off to the train station for the double header...Magalore and then Goa....

Wednesday, 31 December 2008

Forgetable French Flair and Snooty Ooty

The cricket was over and it was time to leave the big city for more relaxing pastures. So we headed to Pondicherry, a French seaside enclave three hours south of Madras and highly recommended by the Lonely Planet...The guide book oversold the town....The best thing about it was that we finally found our Chennai Super Kings cricket shirts and 0f course, cricket in the bus station! We decided to head to the mountains and be submerged in colonial splendour - as described by the book....

Ooty is an old hill station and home to several beautiful tea plantations, but it was also to be one of the disappointments of the trip thus far. Perhaps there was too much expectation. The bus journey through the winding mountains was stunning, a tad hair-raising and bumpy but after 5 epic hours with no air con or adjustable seats we were ready to see what it had to offer.

Our arrival at the bus station was yet another experience with the locals checking out the Viru...or maybe they were just staring at the two nutter travellers who had arrived in shorts, t-shirts and flip flops with the temperature settling in at a chilly 5 degrees... a bit of a school boy error and in hindsight perhaps we should of factor in the potential for wintery conditions at that altitude.

We consulted the LP yet again for a cosy place to stay, the YWCA was the top pick and sounded appealing - two sopen fires and constant hot water. The staff were friendly enough and we opted for the premium cottage with a "working" shower . The twin bed request was brushed aside and they showed us the cottage with a problem, they would split the beds and replace the double sheets with singles...later...later please!

We unwound after the long journey by chatting to some other lodgers. French, German, English and South African travellers came together to share stories over dinner. The service was comical (think Fawlty Towers) - ask for an item and the answer was bound to be...not today sir ...2 banana lassi.....only one banana. It was a good thing the compnay and conversation were good or it could've been painful.The eveing was to get better....

With our appetite's satisfied and heavy eyes, we headed to our room to chill - no pun intended although how true it was to be - and plan the trip to the tea plantations but first a hot shower to warm up....... A long story short, ...the beds were still the same and we ended up running to another building in our towels to have a shower. Well it was a shower until the shower head fell off as Hugo showered and we were left with a hose. The manager was up in arms about it all and couldn't understanding why we were complaining.

With the temperatures dropping and the room approaching freezing, we requested a 4th blanket each but despite having a stack of them the Manager was reluctant to give us another one. That was positvely Dan's worst evening on this trip, he was semi dilirious,sweat pouring off him and dreaming of Sachin Tendulkar and swords. Dan spent 45 minutes sitting in the ensuite shower room....elsewhere at 3am (more info than necessary I know, but I'm painting the picture)....not fun...why now when we were due some hiking and outdoor adventures?

The following morning we called a guide and quickly realised that the price didn't include transportation - you get a local who walks around with you for 4 hours on the main road and charges 10 quid each. We looked at each other, decided we could probably manage that by ourselves and jumped on the bus up to Conoor.

The tea plantation itself was brilliant. We had a tour of the tea processing factory and wandering around the plantation before finishing with a few with a few cups of tea.

A snap decision was made to head back to Coimbuture junction for a good night's rest and then an early train to Kerala. Farewell Tamil Nadu!

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Muggy in Madras

We arrived in Madras / Chennai after a monster journey from Udaipur. With a full day's cricket watching to be had the following day, we chose the optimistically named 'sleeper' bus from Udaipur to Ahmedabad. Now I'll try my best to describe this expereince but I fear you won't really see the complete picture.
The sleeper cabins were a solid structures suspended above the 'regular' seats. Our twin cabin was the last one at the back on the bus. We climbed in to discover that for two normal sized people to fit in the cabin we almost had to spoon each other!! No issue we thought, we've had to share a double bed in most of the hotels as it seems India doesn't really do twin rooms and well be asleep for most of the 4.5 hours we've got on the bus.
The three lane highway we'd been promised wa exactly that, a three lane highway. What it wasn't was a smooth road! No sleep was had on that leg on the journey as we were thrown 30 cms in to the air every 5 mins.. We were dumped on the side on the road in Ahmedabad at 2.45am with three and a bit hours before our flight but with only one rickshaw available to take us there. The driver recognised our precarious situation and started the negotiations at an outrageous price. We negotiated him done to a semi respectable level of being ripped off and climbed in to the rickshaw for the freezing 20 mins ride.

We arrived in Madras at 8.30 but still hoped to make the start of play an hour later. We gently encouraged our cabbie, who didn't speak a word of English, to put his foot down. The alarm bells started ringing when he hadn't heard of our hotel despite us opting for a semi expensive mid range option. Indian cabbies / rickshaw drivers seem to know every hotel from the most expensive to the worst but ours didn't know the one we'd chosen. By the time we found it the match had long since started and we realised why he didn't know it, it looked like nobody had stayed there since 1947. It was a dump and an expensive one at that. We quickly rang another hotel and booked their 35 quid 'super delux executive room', which was no better. We reached the third hotel and took whatever they had but vowed to stay for one night only! The Imperial was anything but imperial and a succession of people wanted to enter our room, 'cleaning please', 'laundry please', 'remote please'.......

We bought our 3 quid ticket and entered the stadium, which disappointingly about a tenth full. No worries, we were soon in deep conversation with some locals and enjoying the cricket with England in control. Litres of sweet, ginger chai were consumed together with a multitude of masala flavoured snacks. Our contented thoughts were that the arduous journey had been well worth the effort.
All we had to do now was find a semi-decent place to stay. We had a beer with some of the barmy Army and wandered around the local hotels. It wasn't long before we found the Royal City Mansions which looked welcoming and the two guys at reception wobbled their heads in an endearing way but so much that I feared they might injure themselves!! It was so clean on the way to look at the room that I could barely contain my excitement that we'd found a hotel that was cheap and clean. Dan reminded me not to judge just yet.... but gratefully he was wrong and the room was lush. We had four good nights there and no little head wobbbling. Our repeated jokes about discounts paid off when he paid up and the chief receptionist forgot the agreed rate and charged us the local tariff!

You might think I'm not writing much about the cricket and that's not because I'm disappointed by the result - which I am - but because the cricket really was secondary compared to our experiences with the locals... Madras is a muggy, ugly and polluted city but despite that we had a brilliant time.
Here is a brief overview of the highlights:

Helping Anthony our rickshaw driver get free entry to 3 days of the Test by going to tourist shops with him. While we had dinner after the third shop, he managed to get completely p1ssed and tried to claim sobriety!! Randomly we bumped in to him three days later outside a shopping centre on the other side of town and offering to organise 'illicit women' for us. The offer was politely declined..

The man in the pink suit - pictured - who we saw on every day of the test and who wore something equally garish on each of the 5 days. Apparently he always dresses like a film star!
The cricket. The Chepauk stadium filling up as Shewag hammered England to all parts and the noise when Sachin completed an historic Indian win. The Indian supporters must be the most generous in the world; the genuinely seemed happy when an Englishman performed well.
Danny with Shewag's loudest fan!
Oh yes and I managed to get my ugly mug in the Deccan Chronicle with a group of local fans!
Local cuisine. Although we'd eaten dosa in Rajastan we had to try it where it was from: Tamil Nadu. The pink suited man recommended Sarauana Bhavana, Chennai's most famous veg restaurant. We asked for a table for two and were prompty seated opposite three middle aged men in what can only be described as an interview style set-up. We sat eye balling each other after our initial forays in to conversation were cut short. They did however recommended what they were eating: Idly - a curry with maize balls - and doas - a huge Indian pancake. Both dishes were absolutely delicious but maybe not the best choice when your stomach is gurgling....

Delhi belly and the desire for some western food. So our stomachs were showing the first signs of unease and we thought we'd have some western grub while we bought our Chennai Super Kings cricket shirts. We went to the City Centre shopping mall for what turned out to be a verage average dinner. The bright lights of the cinema were calling us and how could anyone resist 'The day the earth stood still' with Keanu Reeves? Although it should have gone straight to DVD, the film provided many laughs, particularly the ice cream break after 45 mins and me legging it out of the cinema after 30 mins as I realised I'd left some train tickets at the box office!

Bond, James Bond...and a close shave in Udaipur

We've been chalking up various destinations and routes to work out the most efficient use of our time whilst not missing out on any of the recommended sites, and now find ourselves on a bus (5 hours) down to Udaipur. Still excited about our cooking experience and a 20 min session of cricket in front of the bus stand we settle in and get smiles from fellow locals...who have been told that WE are the Cricketers...ahh...yes please...thanking you......

For those of you that are not familiar with Udaipur, it is steeped in history, but also known because of its romantic lakes , rooftop restaurants and rolling hills ...that and the fact that Octopussy was filmed here a long time ago, and still central to the tourism of Udaipur.(see

Hugo reminds me of George's email and recommendation of the Mahendra Prakash. I'm on the phone in a flash trying to book a twin room. As always, after a bit of broken dialogue, we work out that there is a room and that we can get an auto from the bus station for about 20P....what no complimentary pick-up??...not a good start...

Upon arrival, we are greeted by the general (old boy in a and escorted to reception, with about 3 guys around us clambering at our backpacks when we have already carried them through to the foyer...a little late boys.

We get a quick tour and take in the plush surroundings. This is by far the most picturesque hotel we have stayed in, with a lush swimming pool and great lawn area. It's a pity that we only have one night here, but at least that will be spent in comfort and the luxury of a little Star cricket, once again.

The following morning we finalise our journey to Ahmedebad , where we are to connect for a flight to Chennai for the 1st Test match between England and India. This is going to be tiring...the bus leaves that evening at 10pm (we've booked our first sleeper seat), then a flight at 6am and straight to Chennai (more about that later).
We enjoy breakfast in the garden and grab a quick dip...the sun is warm at 9am , but it hasn't warmed the water yet, so it's a fresh dip....fresh....!!! We venture up along the road, first cut left, second cut right are the directions to get to the City Palace given by reception, no problems. Udaipur is pleasantly quiter than the other cities and we feel heaps more relaxed and start considering our itinerary for the day...Palace , Lake Palce , Boat trip (potentially??) , Monsoon Palace for sunset....ahh, let's see what happens....oh what about a shave.
Having walked around the Palace grounds and admiring it's grandeur, we get the necessary tourist pics and decide to call it a day on the culture front. All the palaces and forts are now morphing into one...we need to appreciate these.

The Monsoon Palace taken from the City Palace

Okay, we find a rickshaw driver and negotiate a price for a tour of the city finishing at Monsoon Palace - 20 mins outside the city - at much....15 mins later and we've agreed a price and we're off to the barber.

There are some strange looks from the locals as we take our seats ...this is going to be interesting, no English and trying to explain that we want to keep the burns...we'll see what happens. ..It all goes off smoothly - no pun intended - we get a shave , face and head massage for a whopping 50p...brilliant.
Check the burners....

Time to move on, take our pics and thank the stop the spice and veg markets.

The spices - can you identify them?

This bustling area has it all. You name and you can find it: sacks of rice, beans, lentils and spices....we pop over to a few and ask questions and finally walk away from a stall with some Kashmiri saffron, all the while getting hurried along by our rickshaw driver because we might miss sunset...calma...calma...fica gelo.... ( our Brazilian Portuguese). The vendor is still trying to flog us some Darjeeling and Assam tea, we politely thank him and move on. The fruit and veg markets are colourful and bustling with people - there are loads of strange looking vegetables and between the two of us we struggle to decide what they are...root vegetables of some sort is what we settle on.
The ride up the Monsoon palace is a hairy one, winding road to the top with a lot of horning involved at the turns, but it's worth the wait and the trip as the views are breathtaking. With the sun setting fast, some joker asks us where we are from and when I say SA , he mouths off some word in Xhosa...I am impressed and sucked into a guided tour...for's 10 mins and he rushes us along to the best spots with about 3 bits of info about the Palace itself , the Maharaja's shower room, the room where the poker scence in Octopussy is filmed and something about the views....bore off.

Sunset at the Monsoon romantic....

The owner of the Mahendra Prakash is there when we come to collect our goods and he talks us through some of his cricketing tales...the photos on his walls with Sachin and Azharuddin in his team, touring English sides and he tells us he played for the 1sts down in Kent for a few years. Hugo asks him if he remembers a George who played for his team about 5 years ago, and this has the man roaring with laughter...he sure does and is soon commenting on George's contribution to the team - 5 years on and impression has been left..good work George.

With the day drawing to a close , it's time to bid Udaipur and Rajasthan farewell. It's been an epic journey and a great introduction to the Indian culture. Rajasthan has not disappointed and is in the memory banks. Next we head into Tamil Nadu........

Riding high in Jodphur

Ah, Jodhpur not the Pink city or the Golden City , but the Blue named because in the searing heats of Rajasthan , the colour provides a coolness to the houses and a repellent to insects...apparently.
The Blue City taken from the Mehrangarh Fort (home of the Maharajas of Jodphur)

We get hustled off the train again , ready to meet up with Lokesh (the son who runs our guesthouse). We've decided to use the Lonely Planet as a guide and provide us with some useful mid-range accommodation and from the description it looks like we'll be getting some luxury, coupled with value....we are yet to see the place though.

As is the case now , nearly a week into the journey , the Viru is getting us noticed and we've barely hit the rickshaw stand, when we're surrounded by about 10 drivers offering us a lift. Then they notice the Viru....within the space of 2 minutes we have a 10 strong game happening. So what if we're tired from the journey, they're not interested. Who cares if there's barely any light at 10pm , they can come steaming in...numerous bouncers are pelted in and the ball is flying off in all directions...the Jodhpur lot seem to be watching too much T20 cricket , the rule book is out the window and defensive shots are non-existent. Lokesh finally comes over and asks if we are the guys he is due to collect, having stood there watching for 10 mins, and we're bidding out farewells to the boys and off for a night's rest.

Now, we're not the fussy travellers and both of us have stayed in some dives on our travels but this place was a huge disappointment and made us realise that the Lonely Planet perhaps isn't doing it's job correctly and reviewing these houses correctly....Mid range, gets you a hard double, no air-con, non-flushing toilet, but some beautiful murals painted on the walls...what are they talking about...rant over, the place was disappointing, but it was for one night only, so we check in and ask about where we can grab a quick "chat"...bite to eat.

We cruise the road down to Nirvana, which is the recommendation, although the guesthouse owner , doesn't seem to know much about it and pop in...they are just in the process of closing, when the foreigners pull in...reluctant to show any disappointment, the calls are "welcome..welcoming..." and we're taking to a splendid rooftop terrace with spectacular views of the fort. The food is delicious and we explain to the waiter that we'd love to understand more about the local cuisine, no problem, you can come and cook tomorrow....brilliant...what a result, we're going to have our first experience in an Indian problem though...time....we have an afternoon bus to Udaipur and can't miss it...we have a gap from 11.30-1pm...we'll squeeze it in.

The following morning is an early start for a cultural experience up to the wonderful Mehrangarh Fort....we spent a few hours with our audio tour and take it all in admiring the splendid views , and whilst it's all breathtaking , we're both keen just to wrap it up and get to Nirvana to ensure that we can cook. So , we're off.....

Our rickshaw driver is still waiting for us outside , having threatened that if we didn't agree the right price that we'd be left alone and would have to pay more to get taxi's down....what a joker, we've been here for a while now and are getting use to their stunts...when in doubt , look to half what they quote is our philosophy, with some banter along the way.

We pop down to the Clock Tower for a quick Chai and a photograph of the Chai Man...a big Indian bloke who resembles a friendly giant, he has a warm smile and keeps wobbling his head , with chirps of seems to want the photo instantly and doesn't understand that we'd need to download the pic to print it....tomorrow, we politely offer him...."no problem!!"

Nirvana man welcomes us, and assures us the kitchen is waiting , we just need to decide on our food. We go with Hyderabadi biryani and a pakoda....brilliant. As we're about to head off the owner pops over for chat. He spent 15 years in the UK and played club cricket in Durham before deciding to return home and open this restaurant. We have a bit of cricket banter and he is on his way but not before we assure him that his restaurant should be in the Lonely Planet and that we'll recommend them.

To our surprise, the kitchen is in a good rodents running around, they are using chopping boards and prepping for the day.

The action shot....

Our chef is not Indian, but Tibetan. We get started by asking loads of questions about the various spices...turmeric, garam masala, chili powders , coriander etc...we are proper tourists getting in the snaps...popping the pakora balls into the frier, pulling the nan out of the tandoori and the finale, the food shots and photo with our team...
The trainee chefs with their teachers
It's been a great experience and we've walked away knowing more about the delights that we've been eating, next stop Udaipur.