Bangalore is the craft beer capital of India. In Delhi when I asked for a beer the waiter replied “I’ll get the beer menu”. I got excited at the prospect of choosing the perfect beer from the menu. The waiter returned and I looked at the menu. It said
Kingfisher Kingfisher (large)
I’m not sure why he needed a menu!
There was a similar limited selection in every other town we visited. In some places alcohol is strictly regulated and only available from state alchohol stores which were usually down a back alley surrounded by dodgy looking geezers.
I bought beer in one and the man changed me twice the price of the beer even though the price was clearly visible. I didn’t argue with him. You don’t argue with fierce looking men you meet in back alleys.
Working in a bar is a pretty good occupation in India. A typical waiter in a good place makes 25K rupees a month but, in a bar, he can make 80K rupees a month. Which shows how much drunks tip
Running in Bangalore was surprisingly easy. I was staying at a friend’s house in a posh neighberhood. The roads were quiet and the pavements were good. The only problem was the danger I might get lost. Hence my Strava shows I mostly sticked to running up and down roads near the house.
Ease of Running score – 10/10
Sights: 5/10 (There was nice park nearby and the streets were nicely tree lined)
“There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes” is true if the bad weather is rain or snow BUT, for a pale skinned Scotsman, bad running weather also includes sunshine.
Which is why in Goa I’d run as soon as the Sun came up. The 45 minutes after sunrise was the only time of the day which was cool enough to have an enjoyable jog.
I wasn’t the only one with this idea. There was normally a few other joggers out too. One Indian man ran every day I was there. On the first day he spotted me and immediately ran over with his hand in the air. I wasn’t sure what he was after so I did the only thing I could think of – I gave him a big smile and a high five. Every day after this he did exactly the same when he saw me. I’ve no idea who he was but I always looked forward to spotting him.
Another man would always run with a stick. I thought this was a bit strange but didn’t question it until I saw another man running in the opposite direction also carrying a stick.
The next day I saw exactly the same thing happen. I asked a local what is was about. “Is it a relay team practising?”
“No – it’s to protect themselves. If a dog gets too aggressive they use the stick to give it a whack. The dogs on the beach have been known to attack lone joggers!”
Up until that point I hadn’t worried about dogs but after hearing this I gave all dogs a wide berth.
One of the yoga workshops in Goa was called “Ecstatic Dance”. Now you might think the class sounds like something I wouldn’t normally attend but I’m as open minded as the next man…if the next man is an uptight British man who can’t imagine anything worse than a dance class! Despite this I gave it a try.
During the class the tutor said:
“Stand with your eyes closed. Imagine you’re standing in front of yourself. Imagine that self is a better version of you. Now step into yourself and feel how you move. Move in any way you like. Feel how your arms move. Your legs move. Your whole body moves.”
Now watch this clip of Peep Show.
I was the Mark of the class!
As everyone else moved I stood still. As people contemplated their better selves. I contemplated what I was going to have for dinner.
It was a great class. Expertly enabled by the tutor but I was too British to enjoy it.
At the end of the class everyone hugged. Some cried. I offered a handshake and a: “Well done. Let’s never talk about this ever again”
A few years ago I visited Club La Santa in Lanzarote for a triathlon training camp. It was a week of swimming , biking and running. It was a fun week but the accommodation wasn’t great. I was one of six middle aged sweaty men packed into to a room that barely fit four.
As soon as we discovered this we requestes a room upgrade. The new room was better but not by much. I assumed this was as good as we could get.
A few days into the trip I went to visit a guy who was having a holiday nearby. He had access to five swimming pools, four restaurants which were all inclusive and the TV in his room had Sky Sports.
I asked him how much he paid for it. I was expecting it to be allot. It wasn’t. He was paying half of what I was paying.
That night I went back to my my place with its one swimming pool (which I had to book in advance to use), three restaurants which all charged money and I had no TV let alone one showing Sky Sports. For the rest of the holiday I called the resort – Prison Camp La Santa.
It’s fair to say I had trepidation about signing up for a week long yoga camp. Would it be a similar prison like experience?
This was my typical day in paradise. Which isn’t an exageration. It was quite literally where I was as the local beach was called Paradise Beach.
Which is a pretty cocky name to give it. What if there was better beach nearby? They’d think Paradise Beach had got ideas above it’s station. In Scotland we’d be too modest. The beach would be called Nae-bad Beach.
7am – Chanting I’m not big on chanting unless its at a football match and the chant is “the ref is effin idiot”. So instead I went for a jog on the beach. Goa is very hot (35C during the day) so this is the only time a run was pleasant. I’d try to get 5k in before heading back for …
8am – Asana Practice Most days this was a mix of ashtanga and yin. It was a good balance of poses/breathing exercises.
By having the same teacher each day I got familiar with her favourite yoga cues for moves. As the same cues would make daily appearances. My favourite the teacher used was:
“You are welcome to stay in this pose for as long as you like but when you’re ready…”
I wonder how long I could stay in a pose for. Would everyone have to wait for me? Maybe I could spend the whole class asleep.
After class I’d head for….
10 am – Breakfast. Usually an Indian option and a scrambled option – eggs, chickpeas or paneer. I was happy when it was eggs. Less so when it was paneer. They also had nice rolls, and fresh fruits and salad.
The cafe area was the only place for WiFi and annoyingly it had a a limit to the number of folk who could connect. Most days I would go to breakfast hoping to check social media but end up with a “could not start networking” message. The upside of this is that i forced everyone to be social with eachby chatting about how bad the WiFi was.
WiFi is very important to Indians. One time the whole town had a power cut. There was no lights, no TV, no kitchen equipment working BUT the WiFi still worked. They kept that on a battery so it wouldn’t go out. That priorities – selfies first, self preservation second.
After breakfast I’d head to town for a swim in the sea. The sea was a 20 minute downhill walk from the Shala which meant it was a 20 minute uphill walk on the way back. This was a hard slog in the heat of the day.
There was allot of stalls on the way to the beach. As I passed the shop keepers would shout out “hello my friend. Come look. I have great pashminas/sun glasses/shoes etc” or whatever it was they thought I might need.
Strangely the one place they didn’t bother me was when selecting a seat on the Beach. In most Mediterranean countries you can barely look at a seat without someone coming over and asking 10 Euro’s for it.
1400 – Lunch I’d head back to the shala for lunch. It was a similar selection each day . I usually got the hummus and veg wrap. To balance out the healthiness I’d eat a twix afterwards. At the start of the yoga retreat there were 7 twix’s in the local shop. By the end of the week there were none.
1600 – Workshop At 4 o’clock there would a workshop on yoga topics ie headstands or mindfulness. They were very useful but I skipped the ones I wasn’t interested in. One day I did an ecstatic dance workshop. As an uptight British man this was a challenge. I’m still too traumatised to talk about it!
1900 – Dinner The highlight of dinner was deserts. Sometimes they’d have home made cookies but other times they’d go to the local shop and buy chocolate bars and cut them up.
Strangely. They never once had twixs. Someone must have eaten them all.
I visited Delhi 10 years ago. I was attending an Indian wedding. It was a very glamorous affair as the bride and groom were both from very wealthy families.
The celebrations lasted three days. Day 1 was at the groom’s house. He paid to have his street closed off and then rode a horse down it whilst wearing full regal clothing. I’d like to see someone try this in Scotland. “Why is my street closed? Some prick is riding a horse whilst dressed like a fud!”
I don’t think it’ll catch on.
Day 2 was a ceremony for the bride in a luxury hotel. She sat on a platform getting her wedding henna tattoos applied. As she had to sit very still various people would go in front of her to entertain her. As the only white person at the wedding I was pushed forward to entertain her. I asked what I should do. Most people dance I was told. So I told her I’d dance a traditional Scottish wedding dance. Unfortunately I didn’t know any so I did the Macarena instead and hoped that song had never reached Delhi
It was a great occasion but I remember Delhi as being dirty, noisy and busy. I’d stayed in a dive of a hotel in the old town. This time I wanted to stay somewhere better so at least there would be some respite from all the craziness.
Thankfully the exchange rate and the power of the pound means Indian hotels are very reasonably priced so it’s easy and affordable to stay somewhere good.
Although they are Indian so their happy to rip you off if you let hem. For example a taxi from the airport costs 400R. The hotel offered to pick us up for 4000R! We turned down their offer!
Indians hotels have a lot of security which is a good thing in that it makes me feel safe but it’s a bad thing because it also make me question why ? What do they know that I don’t! Especially as India is a very safe country to travel in where I rarely feel troubled.
We tried to get a yoga class but they didn’t have any so instead we used their activity room to do it ourselves.
I was very impressed by the lights to the swimming pool
I was also impressed by the first television we had in a week that had more than just BBC World as an English Channel. After yoga we watched an episode of Friends. Sometimes it’s the small reminders of home that help break up a journey.
Delhi was also a failure when it came to runnign a 5K. My hotel was in an awkward sport near allot of very busy roads which were tricky to cross. I could have run laps of the block but I preferred to walk instead.
Indians in Delhi are very helpful when I’m walking. They would often stop me and ask “where are you walking to?”
Which would swiftly become an interrogation. “Why are you walking? Why don’t use use a rickshaw? Tell me again where are you going?”
I reply that I’m heading to Lodi gardens.
“You’ll not get to Lodi gardens this way. There is a protest on. It’s very dangerous. You should go to Connaught square to the shops instead.”
I’m sure it’s fine. I’ll give it a try.
“No, no, no. You can not go that way. Tell me where your going next. Have you booked plane? Have you got accommodation?”
I decide to ignore him and head in the direction of Lodi gardens. Within a few minutes another man has come up and demanded to know why I’m walking. I tell him I’m going to Lodi gardens.
“It is closed today. You won’t get in.”
I thought it was a public park that’s free to all and open all year.
“No, it’s definitely closed. You won’t get in. You need to go to market. It is open”
I ignore him and continue walking.
There is no sign of any protest anywhere. It’s just a normal road which for once in India is surprisingly quiet and easy to walk.
Of course, a third man approaches. I’ve now worked out that all they care about is getting me to go to wherever their own shop is. I don’t even bother speaking to him when he asks why I am walking.
Eventually I reach the garden. Its full of Indian families enjoying the late evening sun. It is definitely not closed.
Ease of running score – 4/10 (The pavements are great but the roads are busy and tricky to cross)
Running in varanasi was impossible. The roads were too busy (at any time of the day and night) and the the paths were so uneven it would have been too dificult and unsafe to even attempt a run. Instead I went for a 5k walk
Negotiating with taxi drivers is an art. There are two problems:
1 – Indian taxi drivers rarely know where anything is. 2 – They want to rip you off as much as possible on the price.
Problem 1 is fair enough. Varanasi has thousands of streets and lanes and no one could possibly know them all. Also the name I might call it might not reflect the local name for a place. Even the name Varanasi is a misnomer as it’s local name is Banderas.
The best thing to do is to give them something famous near to where you want to go and then guide them from that. I use an offline downloaded map on my phone to get about as I didn’t want to pay a fortune for roaming mobile data.
Problem 2 is annoying. My normal gambit is to approach the taxi driver and ask for a price. They tell me an outrageous price. I counter with a much much lower offer. They argue and tell me why I’m wrong before they drop the price slightly. I’ll then offer a slightly higher offer which they’ll reject. I then walk away. As I walk away they shout a new price. I make my final offer. We agree and off we go. It’s a tiring and annoying process but it seemed to work until I got to Varanasi.
I tried it but as I walked away the taxi driver just let me go.
Darn I thought. That normally works!
Just as I was about to turn around another man came up and said he do it for 100R but it would be on his bike.
I said yes. Myself and Nic got on his bike and the man started pedaling but we didn’t go anywhere. The ride was on a slight incline and my weight was too much for him!
He started pushing instead. Thankfully after a few minutes it got flatter and he hopped on and managed to bike. Unfortunately he had no idea where we were going so after another few minutes he declared we were at the destination. We weren’t. It was still a couple of miles away.
He called over another man and they studied my map trying to work out where the destination was. After some to-ing and fro-ing and some questioning of others they worked out it was straight down the road he was currently on. I had tried to tell him that but he hadn’t believed me.
I felt sorry for him as he hauled me along. The road was extremely busy. I’d never drive it let alone cycle it.
Eventually we got to our stop. I gave him 100R but then pointed at Nic and said “no 100R each”
An Indian taxi/bike drivers scam work is never done.
If only people in the UK were so entrepreneurial.
Ease of running score – 1/10 (it might be possible but it would’t be fun)
Sights 9/10 – the Ghats are a fascinating place. Take it slow and enjoy the sights.
Before he handed it to me he uses the end of it it to move a dead mouse along the floor to a corner of the room.
He then hands me my yoga mouse mat ‘shovel’. India is simultaneously spiritual and practical.
The yoga teacher is a middle aged man in a leather jacket and scarf. He doesn’t remove the leather jacket until half way through the practice. The scarf lasts until near the end.
He has a nice manner and a gentle voice. “We will begin with 15 minutes of mediation. Lie down on your mat and concentrate on the silence”
The silence is swiftly broken by the crazy frog ringtone of the teachers mobile phone.
A minute later his phone goes ping then shortly after that it rings, then later it gives off a weird cosmic sound. By the end of the 15 minutes I’ve only managed to meditate about his ringtones.
Again it shows the simultaneous spiritual and practical side of India. Yes meditate but don’t miss out on any important messages.
We continue by doing some hip opening exercises. he says “Sit on the floor cross legged. Then rock you legs like they’re a butterfly’s wing. Fly from flower to flower, pretty butterfly.” My hips are very tight. My butterfly crashed.
He then says “Close your eyes and put your fingers on your ears then make a noise like a Bumblebee. Buzzzzzzzzz!” I follow his instructions. After a few buzzzzzzes I realize the flaw in the plan. Having my fingers in my ears and my eyes closed mean I can’t see or hear when to stop. I open one eye. Everyone else is watching me. I hope I wasn’t the only one doing the exercise!
He says we will finish off by chanting with “ohm” five times. He only does four. His mobile phone goes off and he has to answer it.
He ends by saying “Nothing is permanent.” I think to myself “Nothing is permanent unless its his phone being switched on.”
I’ve wanted to visit the temple of Kali since reading a novel about a man drawn to Kolkata to search for a poet but he becomes embroiled in the dark heart of the city. Its called Songs of Kali and has a lot of references to the temple. The city sounded wild and dangerous so I was intrigued to see it for myself!
The temple was only 9km from the hotel but, due to the terrible Kolkata traffic, this is a one hour 20 minutes cab ride.
As I walked towards the temple I could only see one sign. It said “This Way Inside” with an arrow quite clearly showing the way. I followed it and, unsurprisingly (see previous post about queuing) I had to join a large queue.
At this point a few Indians pointed out I had a bag and I won’t get in with one. I said it’s okay, I’ll put them into the official bag office.
After twenty minutes of queuing I got to the entrance. At this point some old Indian ladies spotted me and choose to skip the whole line and come in by my side. Assuming I’d be too ignorant a foreigner to complain.
This nearly started a riot as the Indians behind screamed abuse at the little old ladies.
You would think such a holy place would be immune to people skipping ahead or shouting abuse.
As soon as I got in, I walked to what I assumed was the bag office. It was the bag office. The back of it. I spotted a man and asked him to take the bag. He said no. Go to the front of the office. This meant I had to go back out! Nic said she’d wait so I wouldn’t need to join the line again.
I went out and, what a surprise, there was another queue. This time to put in bags. Also unsurprisingly a little old lady used me as cover to jump the queue so she could put her bag in.
“At last I can get in,” I thought. I turned to go back to the line but I spotted Nic. She was no longer waiting. She was now at the bag office. She forgot she had a bag. So we queued again!
This time a little old lady pushed her son ahead of me. Technically she didn’t skip the queue. He did it for her.
After dropping the second bag we returned and rejoined the original line. It moved quite quickly. Before we knew it we were inside the temple where ….can you guess what happened next? Yes – we had a queue but not just one. We had a choice of three queues. Each seemed to head to different internal parts of the temple.
We decided to not bother with them and walked around admiring the outside of the building instead before leaving to join a queue to get our bags back.
I think instead of calling the book Songs of Kali, it should have been called Queues of Kali.
One of my aims in India was to run 5km in every place I visited. Kolkata was tricky because the roads are very busy and the pavement is so crowded there is very little room to walk, let alone run.
Thankfully my hotel was near a park within jogging distance of the Victoria memorial.
I headed out early before the traffic got bad and before the pavements became too busy.
As I jogged I passed signs for the half marathon and full marathon. I’d like to know how this was done as there wasn’t any free space for a 100m race let alone a long distance event. I didn’t see any other joggers out so I’ve no idea how people train for the race.
The park was full of cricket matches which meant I had to watch carefully for flying cricket balls.
The route around the memorial was a mile. I did it clockwise and anti-clockwise to add enough distance to get to 5k
Ease of running score – 5/10 (but only if I run before 8am)
* I also had to continuously watch my footing even on the pavements as the surface is very uneven
Sights 9/10 – the park is full of interesting things. Cricket/football/herds of goats…