Inle lake/ Stilted

It’s so bloody cold. Dressed to tan, we wrap the blankets around us, as the water splashes back and the air hits us hard. The long narrow boat cuts through the water, through the hazy grey setting, as we lookout to a what seems like a sea of pale blues and whites. The river is wide and on either side is the occasional spouts of the green and muddy brown marsh land.  Entering our vision, are what seems like flamencos; gracefully stood dancing on the water surface, long silhouetted lines of their extended legs, forming balletic postures.  In our sight were the famous long boat men. Each with a foot wrapped around long sticks, as they guide their boats and fish.  We had arrived at Inle Lake, a cluster of villages living on the nearl water, home to over 70,000 people!

DSCF8177

Unlike in Kerala, where man made banks had been made around the houses, these villages sat wholly on the water. house raised on stilts and boats parked underneath. As you go through you can find temples, monasteries, markets, silversmiths, silk makers, blacksmith. Rowing through the villages, past the small raised spaces you can start to feel claustrophobic, the idea of being prohibited to this defined space. Yet on the other hand you are in awe at the way they have utilised the space, wondering how different it would be to live in this way moving from boat to station, to pavements or large spaces to run free.

The most innovative use of the water is the floating gardens. You see men hauling green gloopy weeds out of the river into their boats, as it engulfs all around them, sure to soon sink the boat,  yet they keep on loading. Later they will use bamboo poles to create an initial structure buried into the ground, where they will then weave the greenery around them creating a layer which they can then add compose to grow above. Lanes of fruit and veg will start to grow, a women on very narrow boats can then weave through piking up the produce as they reach out on the very edge of the boat. Watching this happen makes you think what the world could be like if we continue to flood all around us, the way we may have to life- on the edge of a boat!

 

Kathmandu/ Dust youself off and get back up again

Driving through Nepal on arrival, felt like entering a ghost town. Quiet washed over the city, grey sky’s, and dust upon everything. A consistency and regularity to everything, everywhere had been put into order and then left. The shops front neats and tidy, no litter. Every few metres piles of bricks and mounts of dirt. Unlike India with chaos and litter everywhere, there was order amongst the rumble of the half crumbling houses. As we got closer to the city centre things got busier. People wondered the streets with masks on their faces, hiding from the dust. School kids, mums with baby’s bundled in scarves strapped to their backs. Colour started to leak through the grey, the reds of temples shrines and gold pray bells, the yellow and oranges of the the fruit filling the bowl in the front of a bicycle, rusted silver pots filled with powdered spices. Elements of Indian and Tibetian influence peaked through the square, uniformed streets. The deeper you walked into the old town, the more the layers revealed. Deep cracks through the road, turning a corner to the whole road in upheaval, climbing over mounts of mud, jumping over a ditch to get to the other side of the road, as people rebuild after the devastation that was the earthquake. 

2 years on and the damage caused is still very much prevalent. On the outskirts you still see camps where people who lost their homes still live, people who lost their business. In the city every few houses are ripped open, exposed interiors that once stood whole. The amazing part is how they have rebuilt, the strength of the people. You will find old ladies with a woven basket strapped to their head, loading up bricks as they climb through the mud to empty the heavy load into a nearby truck. At home this would be the work of young labours, 17year old boys not 50-60 year old women, but they are there working hard to make the city. With so many people affected by the earthquake our hostel owner tells us that the most advertised products on television are now cerment, followed by steel rods and then biscuits! 

Hampi/ A prehistoric journey

A roller coaster of dirt tracks, slipping off the recliner bus chairs, questioning how the bus suspension was still in tact, the cold dusty air hitting your face. The 13 hours spend on our semi sleeper bus to Hampi, one may have thought that the bus at some point transformed into Fred’s dino car, particularly when you step out into a skyline of huge stone boulders, tall trees and eroding steams. As you walk along seeings signs, beware of leopard, do not jump in lake- crocodiles!

16788814_108167719708691_6313126373456084992_n

Hampi is protected by UNESCO as one of the civilisations it is a world heritage site, with temples and accent ruins. On one side of the river you can explore the ruins of the Vijayanagara Empire of the 7th Century.But take a trip across to the other side and risk being lost for days on hippie island. A row of hostels, sit against the paddy fields and rock boulders. Backpackers, blazing slumped on cushions looking out to the views. Swimming in lakes by day and climbing the rocks by sunset, guitar in hand, spliff in the other. Feeling like I may become James Franko in 127 hours, falling down the gaps, I lept anyway to join the singsong and watch the sunset over the ancient city.

 

 

Wayanad/ Nature is King

img_3083-1Bus stop chos, stampedes of people pushing for a place on the bus to get us out of the city. Fighting our way through, we sit tightly for the next 5 hours, the dusty hot air starts to become cold and crisp as we ascend through the hairpin bends up to Wayanad national park. With waterfalls, spice fields, tea plantations, lakes, local tribes, you can spend days get lost in nature. Spending some time with a local family, we cooked dinner picking the spices and vegetables straight out of their back garden. Hitting a papaya out of the tree and learning the best way to slice open a coconut for its milk.

The family also own a pepper plantation, employing the local tribes to pick the pepper pods for them. The government supplies the tribes with food, clothes, so we are told the money they earn goes mainly towards alcohol. Booze and alcoholism being a common problem in India.

16585392_1300701019976004_5142240416514441216_n1The most popular resident however in Wayanad are the elephants! The kings of the land. Driving slowly through the main road which takes you to the next village, you will entered their land. Doesn’t matter if your walking, a car or a bus the elephants are boss. Get to close and they will not be afraid to charge at you knocking over your car, as we nearly experienced. These are wild, untamed elephants who make paths for the rest of the families of deers, rabbits, peacocks… though we didn’t quite get to see how they play with the tigers!

India/ Kerrela/Malabar fish fry

You can do this with any fish, but we used tuna steaks- yum!

For four people:

  • 4 tuna steaks
  • 1/2 tsp pepper
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1-2 tsp of chilli
  • 1/3 tsp turmeric
  • 1/2 lime
  • 2 tbsp heaped coconut oil
  • 2 sprigs of curry leaves

img_3603-1Mix all of the spices together, add a little water to make a paste. Rub into the steaks then leave to marinade in the fridge, ideally for a good few hours.

Heat the coconut oil in a pan, when hot add the sprigs of curry leaves. Expect sizzling and spitting oil! Add the marinaded steaks, lower the heat and close the lid and lower the heat. Cool for 10mins , then turn and leave for another 10mins until ready to serve. In Kerrela the fish is served crispy, but if you like your tuna a bit raw cook for a lot less time!

India/ Masala Chai

img_2084

Everywhere you go you will here ‘Chai, chai, chai’. Warm, fragrant, spicy milky tea. In the colder months they often add ginger too. 

For 8 people-

  • 4 cups of milk 
  • 4 cups of water
  • 8 tsb sugar
  • 3 tsb black Darjeeling tea
  • 4 Cardamon pods
  • 6 black peppercorns 
  • Inch long peice of ginger crushed (opt)

In a pestle and mortar crush Cardamon and pepper. Heat up the milk over a medium heat, as the milk starts to boil and froth, use ladle and pull milk at a height to make it frothier. In a separate pan heat water, add coffee. Pour boiled milk at a height into coffee mixture and add spices and ginger if desired. Increase heat and boil further. Filter through a fine sieve to serve. 

Jaipur/ Let’s go fly a kite

img_1960Like a flock of birds dancing, dots of colour littered the skyline, as kites soared and turned, looking down on the thousands who had taken to the roofs. January 14th is Rajhastan’s kite festival. 

The festival is meant to step back to the Maharaja Ram Sing II in 1835, he loved to fly kites and once exhausted would cut the strings letting the fly loose, anyone who wished to search and bring the kite back to hi would be rewarded. 14th January, is the first day of Spring, so welcoming in the sun this day was chosen to celebrate the Maharaja.

Today you will see people all of the city taking part. Whilst there is the main stadium where people will compete, mainly families and friends with gather on their roofs, with food and music ready to challenge each other, gliding their kites across the sky, directing the rough lines to cut each other down. Then turning to fireflies at night the kites are replaced with thousands of lanterns, creating a beautiful trance over the city.

Tordi Gar / Changing times

The past few weeks have been spent walking through narrow muddy paths, looking up to ornate temples, smelling whiffs of incense, whilst nearly stepping in a huge cow shit, dogging a bull, then a tuck tuk, seeing a herd of goats being ushered past a group of men huddled over a fire and the eyes of women hidden under folds of beautifully coloured silk. Towering forts the backdrop to to tradesman tapping, shaping, building in the streets.  It’s not hard to imagine an ancient India, run by kings in their palace’s, led by beliefs and worship for the gods and a caste system defining their society, creating a place for everything and everyone. Throughout Rajasthan you notice this rub between an ancient way of life, filled with values and tradition and the influence of globalisation on a developing country.

On arriving in Tordi Gar, a little village outside of Pushkar, you can see how the state is developing. On one hand you see how the village is still self sustained, a man milking his cow for dinner, cow dung being used to insulate the houses, local tradesman- the potter, the shop keeper, the seamstress; on the other, that with more people flocking to the cities for better opportunities they need support. To improve basic living conditions the government has introduced the ‘Swachh Bharat Abhiyan’- The Clean India initiative.

The street walls have become notifications of change; signs encouraging children to wash their hands, clean, whilst the fronts of houses show marks that indicate they were given a fund to have a toilet fitted in the house. Publicly stamped to ensure the money isn’t spend elsewhere. As the villages evolve and new generations chose new lines of work, local business struggle as brands such as north face creep in- no doubt as a result of travellers. Whilst such change in many ways is both positive and inevitable, I hope that a developing India does not mean a western one and that they can retain some of the tradition and beauty which gives it its rich identity.

Pushkar/The Gods

img_2003In the beginning there was God. In this case, three Gods, or the trinity. Braham, the creator; Vishnu, the preserver; and Shiva, the destroyer. Together they represent the divine; the comic, the mind and the being; a threefold of nature and function. Just like the good old saying ‘behind every great man is great women’, so is the case here.  To create, you need knowledge, so to Braham is Saraswati, the goddess of knowledge. For Vishnu to preserve all that is good he had Lakshmi, the goddess of love, beauty and delight. As for Shiva, to destroy that which is bad, he needed an equally powerful partner, Parvati, the goddess of power, destruction and transformation. Across India you will see images of the gods and goddesses everywhere. A country adorned with temples and people who strongly believe in their ability to bring good fortune.

Pushkar is home to the only temple in the word devoted to Braham. It is believed that Braham saw the demon Vajranabha attacking his people. With the lotus flower as his weapon he stayed him, but the petals landed on the ground at Pushkar creating the lakes. To protect this land further from attacks he would perform a Yajya ‘fire’ ceremony, to cleanse the land of evil. To ensure the demons didn’t interrupt the creaming he protected the land  creating natural boundaries of the mountains. During the ceremony, he was required to be with his wife, however Saraswati was late, so he blessed one of the cows, turning it to a girl to marry. On hearing this Sur was furious, he had taken another wife. She fled to the mountain top to brew, the spot now housing her own temple. In anger she cursed him, and said that only in this place will anyone ever worship you and there will be no temple in his honour anywhere else.  As a result Pushka has now become a pilgrimage in the Hindu culture. Unfortunately for us, we were unable to enter the temple as the priest had sadly died in a road accident that day. However, geared towards travellers, there were plenty of great shops to keep us occupied instead. 

Jodhpur/ Picture Picture

img_1471

The Blue city, like a sea of water in the middle of the Thar desert, the colour of Shiva. It was most commonly understood that the Brahmin, who were considered close to the gods, painted their houses blue as an indicator of their social class. Today, there are still many blue houses in the old city, a backdrop that pulls you into the winding paths, welcoming you to the warmth of people who sit against these crisp walls.

Everywhere we go, you are stopped by people for a selfie, ‘Miss, please’, ‘Buba, please picture’. An apparent fascination with foreigners and white people, particularly for those in the group who are blonde or ginger, less so for me as they think I look a bit Indian. Our brief time in Jodpor, was particularly good for this, within the 15 minute walk from the fort to the market, meet our line up!

First up we have our baby momma, who practically threw her new born into Ursula’s arms, panicking not to drop her she held on tight as the photos commenced and the baby got passed from one to the next. Just a few more meters, and we met Anop. On sight of the camera around my neck, he instantly started posing and calling for us to come over. Here we had India’s Mr Georgio Armarni, or at least that’s what he thought. Loving the pics, he insisted I wrote down his address and posted the pictures to him so he could hang them on his wall.


Winding further down the hill, passing the crumbling powder blue buildings, a stirring drum beat and a pitter patter of feet fill our ears. We turned the corner to find a group of kids. They ran at us in excitement, again smiling, making shapes for another pic. They pointed to the wall asking us to have a picture with them. As we got up to leave this time, I spotted someone I wanted a picture of, an old lady who owned a fruit and veg shop. On try to discreetly get a natural shot of her, she spotted me. I smiled and gestured to see if it was ok and she started to straighten up, adjust her headscarf, the kids poured in to be part of the picture, but she ushered them off it was her moment! As I turn to leave, Hannah had been  grabbed by a group of lads after Facebook profile pic!

Whilst this was a slightly excessive stretch of requests, it has been like this in every city we have gone to. A fascination I just can’t fathom, particularly given there are still enough tourists that they see white people. Some kids do it so they can ask for money afterwards, but many just want a picture with you to post later? Madness!