Hello Mumbai – finally

It’s my fifth trip to India, Jane’s six, Amy’s third, and finally we get to actually see Mumbai. Although we departed from here in 2011’s Monsoon Meandering trip, and we arrived here four weeks ago, we’ve never visited Mumbai.

I’ve been put off by the stories, the hotel costs, but I did want to see the bedlam and how modern it is. Immediately it felt like Mumbai was in a different country to Badami we’d just come from.

After a couple of hours rest in the hotel we walked to Vile Parle to get a train in – yes I know, another train after the morning’s chaos. It was a lot simpler this time, no rush-hour, no backpacks, getting off at the train’s terminus.

Now lunch time and having skipped breakfast it was food time. First choice was obvious, a Frankie roll, Mumbai’s famous fast food.

We stopped at the station’s Frankie stall – that’s it in the video – for some delicious food. The first of many I hoped, soon regretting the lack of days we had in Mumbai.

Photo requests galore

It was time to stroll on slowly through the parks and quiet wide roads to see the a few places. First up was the Gateway to India, from where the last British soldiers exited in 1948.

Having just rained it was like an ice rick for my flip-flops and avoiding tumbles became my occupation. It soon became the number one place for selfie requests, mainly of Amy of course. It was relentless so we didn’t spend long here and headed off to see the hotel nearby.

Taj Mahal Hotel, Mumbai

The Taj Mahal Hotel is a beautiful looking hotel in a prime position in Mumbai. I remember watching live footage of it during the November 2008 terror attacks, along with Leopold’s Cafe and Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus – all of which we’d see today or tomorrow. A friend Jonathan who’d we’d met in 2009 in Ranthambhore comes here regularly so I was interested to see what the draw is. As lovely as it is, it’s not for us, or rather our budget.

Amy enjoy’s a coke float at Leopold’s

Some shopping followed as we headed to the Leopold Cafe – another focus of the 2008 attacks – for a cheeky beer for me, a tea for Jane and a coke float which made Amy happy.

The place was bustling and had a really nice vibe to it. I bought two of the glasses – they’re dishwasher safe, but unfortunately the writing isn’t.

We headed home, first to Vile Parle and got some wonderful food nearby at Shiv Sagar Veg Restaurant, this time opting for another Mumbai classic, Pav Bhaji, which I really enjoyed…once I’d looked around to see how you’re meant to eat it.

Pav Bhaji – I loved this and have tried to make it back home but it’s not the same

Mumbai arrival bonkers

You know I overplan things right? But on the plus side rarely does anything go wrong.

Well, buckle up.

Mumbai map

With no useful trains from Badami to Mumbai we got to Bagalkot but even then no trains went direct to Mumbai centre. Instead I’d planned to get off at Vasai Road, north of Mumbai. The train came in at 9:30am, after commuter rush hour, so we’d just catch a taxi, tuk-tuk or at worst a train, or so I thought.

I went off to find a taxi or tuk-tuk on the east side of the station, nothing. West side, nothing. No travel agents or places anywhere. We’re stuck, we’ll have to catch a train, but this place is so busy

Three tickets to Vile Parle station bought for less than £1 each and we head off to the train. It’s rammed. It feels like commuting from Waterloo’s Jubilee Line at rush hour, but without dignified queuing or any personal space.

Here’s a video someone else shot – this is normal Mumbai rush hour

We completely fail to get on two trains and some locals are getting annoyed with us because of our rucksacks taking up another person’s space each. One tells me to either go north and try and get on a train up there to return south, or wait here until it dies down a bit, he thinks around two hours should do it.

Stepping back we give up. I notice the ladies only carriage is relatively empty – by which I mean it might be possible to fit a single sardine in there, a small one maybe.

“Okay, Jane, here’s your tickets, here’s some money*, you need to get to Vile Parle or Andheri at worst, then get a tuk-tuk to Hotel International. Ladies Only carriage is there, meet you at the hotel.”. I help them onto the train which barely even stops, they only just fit in.

I’m unable to get on the next two trains so with sharpened elbows I make sure I get on the third and I’m pushed and squeezed more than ever before. A passenger helps me realise that the train is not going to Vile Parle but to Andheri, one station north, but to get off I’ve got to be on the other side of the train. How on earth!

Four stations from Andheri he instructs me to move towards the other side, I get at least a foot closer before the people piling in put me right back where I started. Three stations, two, one and I’m closer. I feel the stress levels rise as Andheri approaches. I’m out, it was easy, because I had dozens of people behind me wanting to get out too.

Outside the tuk-tuk tells me we won’t take me, then he will for Rs500, then he ups it. A police officer comes along and tells him to take me for Rs200 which I estimate distance-wise is three times too much. I would have done it for Rs600, or Rs1000, just to get to the hotel. Fifty minutes later I arrive, the traffic was mad and I feel guitly for thinking Rs200 was ripping me off, I tip him well.

The welcoming smile from the reception guy at Hotel International was so comforting, Jane and Amy had made it, but only recently.

*just in case you’re wondering, Jane prefers me to carry the cash, it’s not a chauvinism thing

Schoolkid humour at place names all the way in India

The names of many towns in India have been translated into English from their native pronunciation in languages like Tamil, Kannada, Malayalam and Hindi. Then many of them have been relatively recently renamed back since independence with Great Britain. As an example, Mysore is now Mysuru, Bangalore is now Bengaluru, Bombay is now Mumbai. What’s interesting for me about all of these is that all locals refer to the old name, regardless of age. What he a very long chat with two guys sharing our compartment in the train two nights ago and every time we said Mysuru, they said Mysore, everytime we said Mumbai, they said Bombay.

Some places are also quite humourous to us.

Let’s start with the place we’re currently at: Badami, pronounced badda-me.
Now, Badami isn’t funny really but when you’re travelling with your well-behaved-daughter named Amy, it then becomes ironic Bad-Amy.

Today we visited a great set of monuments named Pattadkal, or Pattakal, or Pattadakal, or Pattadkali, Pattada Kallu, all spellings used for the same place. That’s not funny of course but just beforehand we went to the spreadout set of ruins in the town named Aihole. Now, if I’m honest I have no clue how this is really pronounced, but for us it’s A-hole.

Special mention should be given to Aihole’s Kunti temple, see ‘J’ above.

Saving the best for last, it can only be the place we travelled through 5 days ago on our way from Periyar to Madurai.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you….
*spits out tea*

Type 1 Diabetes didn’t stop Amy backpacking in India

If I’m honest I thought I’d be doing lots more posts about how Type 1 Diabetes affected our trip, which ends in 3 days. Although we backpacked in India in 2011, 8 months after Amy’s diagnosis, this trip involved more trains, lower class hotels/homestays and we’ve visited more middle-of-nowhere places far away from big cities and their big hospitals. It was also the first one where she is using an insulin pump.

Here’s a picture of Amy at 7am after 15 hours on a train, as we reached our penultimate stop of Badami, well off the beaten path.

If you think about all the potential problems too long, you’d never travel very far at all: the potential loss of much needed medical kit; electronic medical devices failing; consquences of small issues turning into larger ones; worries about not having a major hospital within a few minutes drive; running out of insulin; running out of acceptable glucose treatments; getting food poisoning and potential DKA hospitalisation. And that’s on top off all the normal day-to-day management issues faced.

Well, honestly, we did think about all of the above, we did worry about them (a lot), where possible we planned for each potential issue, but once we’d planned or thought about it we decided to no longer worry about it.

Diabetes-wise: she’s had a few hypers, often waking around 11 mmol (probably down to purposefully underestimating carbs); very few hypos (we’ve still got the European Dextro Mountain in our rucksacks); ketones of 0.6 or lower only twice; one failed set highlighted by pump occlusion warnings and caused by a bent cannula; one set which came off, probably due to heat/humidity. Fantastic going considering that everything is laced with sugar and/or ghee and it’s hard to buy a diet drink where we’ve been, so many full-‘fat’ sodas have been consumed. Throughout the trip Jane and I have had very little involvement as Amy’s managed her diabetes by herself, doing exceedingly well with the carbohydrate guessing game. Amy’s not been wearing CGM for this trip and we’ve not been using Nightscout, it’s all been down to finger-stick checks.

It’s been a wonderful trip.

Nothing has stopped 16 year old Amy from having a brilliant time, doing many life ‘firsts’ – she’s kept a list which runs at over 50 things so far – and gaining such wonderful insights into different cultures, people, food and ways of life.

And one of her highlights of the trip, well, it’s got to be this:

NOTE: For the animal welfare concerned people: this was in an elephant santuary and rescue centre, where elephants are cared for very well. In fact, they’d all be dead if the sanctuary had not rescued them as not many are willing to take on the £50 a day feeding/caring cost of elephant who is not allowed to work. All walks are conducted in the forest, the elephants are fed and bathed well, and the mahouts treat them very well indeed.

Badami caves, in the heart of Selfiestan

India is sometimes also known as Hindustan, and has regions such as Rajasthan. ‘Stan’ means ‘land of’.

Selfiestan was a word I picked up from a road-side advertising board, it seemed to suit how India had changed since our last visit in 2011: everyone was taking selfies, and everyone had much better phones than me!

We all loved Badami, the caves were great, our hotel was good with great food and the place didn’t have any western tourists…well, there were 3…us. It does seem strange that we’re at our most comfortable when we’re the only westerners in any particular place, not sure why this is, but we’ve noticed it several times. The lack of westerners and particularly blond-ish haired teenagers was clear when it came to the photo requests.

Badami, up to this point, was the worst – or is it best? – place for photo requests. Most of the time we didn’t mind, and only once or twice we said no for some reason or another. We certainly didn’t mind the requests, it was the candid shots without a request we did mind and it wasn’t a surprise as I try to always ask permission before taking someone’s photo. Except that I’m quite shy in this regard which is why you’ll see very few people photos in my collections.

Here’s a little video of the caves, the surroundings and a few photo requests:

Aihole and Pattadkal

No real time to write about about these two places, except…

They are superb, and we especially liked the spread out ruins of Aihole. Pattadkal was also great but much more compact and remind Jane and I very much of Khajuraho.

Here’s some pictures:

Amy at Aihole:

I loved this carving:

A very old step well:

Cow adorned with India’s flag colours:

Amy and Jane looking at the dusty town of Aihole:


Badami Caves and the ‘I’d rather live in your country’ conversation

A few things drew us to visiting Badami: its rock caves – something we enjoyed in Ajanta and Ellora; its closeness to Hampi – which we loved last trip; its nearby temples at Pattadkal; it was a halfway stopping point between Mysore and Mumbai.

We’d had a great overnight train journey, sharing our 6 berth area of the train with two chaps who joined at Bangalore (two hours after Mysore) and stayed with us all the way. Whilst their thick accents were at times very difficult to understand they were fascinated by our ways of life in England in comparison to theirs. They started off saying how wealthy our country is, just viewed from TV/films, but once we’d told them how our life is they changed their minds, surprised that our kids are unlikely to own any land or a home, and the student debts they’ll carry for most of their lives. I think we all agreed that India’s focus on family before than money was for the better. I love that there is no quibble in India if a relative needs your help you just do it, putting up with hardships for the benefit of others. I’m not confident the majority of the UK is the same, I see this around me, instead of caring for elders it’s easier to spend money than time, it’s easier to put them in a home than put up with caring for them in their/your house. It’s easier to blame a busy life on not having the time to call the lonely parent. Makes me quite sad.

Anyway, on to Badami, or Bad Amy as we like to call it.

Arriving at our hotel, the Heritage Resort – its lovely – at 8am and they check us into our room and I fall asleep for two hours, catching up on the intermittent sleep on the train. A little food and we catch a ride into town.

Badami’s quite different from a transport point-of-view as there’s no empty tuktuks plying the road between us and the town. They’re all much bigger ones and everyone shares, there’s no personal hiring arrangements here. Our hotel guy crosses the road with us, stops a tuktuk and tells him to take us to town for Rs30 for all. The price comes back as Rs80 (£1) to drop the other passengers off in town and take us on another 1km to the cave entrance. Seems, fair enough, we’ll do it.

The UNESCO World Heritage Site caves cost Rs200 (£2.50) each to get in, 7 times that of a local, but still no money to us. Although the irony is that many locals who visit here drive here from Bangalore in their Audis, they’ve clearly got more money than us.

Rather than tell you all about the caves I’ll use pictures, but as an overview, there’s 4 temples built high into the rock, dating back possibly to the 6th century, some caves have only been discovered in the last couple of years.

Jane and Amy enjoying visiting the caves:

The view across from the caves, more stuff to visit although we ran out of time:

Jane and Amy, a respite from ‘selfies’ with the locals, to get hounded by photo requests from me 😀

Down at the lake for a drink break, watching the women wash and dry their saris:

A stroll from the caves to town, through the market with its vibrant colours:

This kid saw my camera and asked me to take a photo of her, that’s handy, thanks:

Badami caves turned out to be the place with the most photo requests so far on the trip, though Mumbai was soon to change that:

Indian railway stations and a very long walk

Having just completed our penultimate overnight sleeper train – this one took 15 hours, from 4pm to 7am, to take us 733kms to Badami – I thought you might enjoy seeing a little bit of Madurai railway station, some trains and then laugh at our long walk.

To explain the long walk: when you book a train you know exactly which carriage and which seat is yours, it’s possible to view online stuff to see exactly where your carriage is likely to be, in this case we knew we would be carriage 4 of 23. So we positioned ourselves accordingly, using the signs on the station to get to where the fourth carriage should stop. BUT, our train was going in the opposite direction so we were positioned where carriage 19 of 23 would stop. Cue, a little stroll, carrying 18kgs, 500 metres up the platform.

Badami accommodation – Heritage Resort

Rs3000 £36
It’s always been a toss up whether to stay in the center of this apparently dusty town – I don’t know, we’e not visited it yet – or to stay 2km outside Badami at this hotel, The Heritage Resort, which is a small hotel with one block with a/c and non-a/c – like ours – rooms, or the nicer looking cottages. The room decision is easy for us: a/c isn’t really required as it’s only 30C here right now, positively cool compared to some places we’ve stayed – and the room we’ve got is a proper 3 bed room, whereas the cottages would need a mattress on the ground, something Amy would prefer not to have.
At the time of writing it was apparently top out of 6 B&B’s – although it’s not a B&B, it’s a hotel – and averaged 4 stars from it’s 233 reviews. Some reviews slated the restaurant here but we’ve just eaten a hearty breakfast and it was delicious, going to prove you should rely on everything you read.

Burfi, burpy, gloomy – a train food disaster

If you’ve read this blog from the beginning you might remember me talking about ordering some train food, to be delivered at Mysore station just before we left, in this post.

I spotted the eatery Comesum – hilarious right? – on platform 1, we were departing from platform 2.

The train was there way ahead of time so we got on and waiting for the food to be delivered. Just in case though we’d taken some snacks, plus there’s quite a lot of sweets in a box in a bag nearby.

Comesum knew my train number/date/time, the carriage, my seat, my name, all we had to do was wait. So we waited, and waited, and waited. With 10 minutes before departure I was looking up and down the platform, nothing, 5 minutes, nothing, zero minutes, nothing.

The train departed, we had no (real) food, and whilst it was a bit early for dinner we started to feel hungry.

The train food sellers seemed absent, so at Bangalore station I jumped off the train but failed to get anything more substantial on the platform. From Bangalore the food sellers came on so I ordered this bhaji. It was the size of a small football and had (I guess) a similar texture and flavour, but I was hungry and it didn’t last long.

A few snacks later and I was still hungry, and without any chance of any food stations appearing before bed time.

Hold on…haven’t we got some sweets?

Jane hates sweets, Amy and I on the other hand love them.

Amy drew out a chart so we could score each one. After a while we threw the chart away as everything was met with ‘I suppose it’s alright but I won’t order this again’.

First up was Chocolate Burfi, which was sweet – no kidding – slightly chocolatey and generally something we wouldn’t bother ordering again.

Whilst we were doing this the two chaps who joined us at Bangalore – see next post – refused everything we offered them. I wonder why.

I longed for another bhaji.