23.12.2010 30 °C
A few years ago whilst working for a local politician, we were visited, at the constituency office, by an elderly constituent concerned about a United Kingdom Border Agency (UKBA) decision not to allow a friend into the United Kingdom from India.
The elderly constituent was a member of a local church and was visiting India when he fell into conversation with a young Indian lady on a train. It appears that this lady, who was a church minister, was trying to set up a hostel to cater for young disadvantaged girls and after lots of discussion he agreed to offer what help he could. This led to him raising funds to rent a building for the hostel to become a reality and the lady that he met was to manage the hostel.The hostel has now been set up and after further visits to India it was decided that he would like to bring the young lady to the UK for a holiday.
This was when the usually obstructive UKBA decided to thwart the plans, by not allowing a visitor visa to be granted, hence his visit to our office.
With the full backing of my employer, we set out to overturn the UKBA decision which we thought was unjust. After many letters and phone calls to the UKBA eventually the decision was reversed and a visitor visa was granted.
Our constituent then travelled to India with the intention of returning to the UK with his Indian friend, for the holiday. Unfortunately during the visit our constituent became very ill and eventually died out there.
However she did come to the UK eventually and went to stay with the son of our constituent, who brought her to Cardiff to visit her friend’s neighbourhood, during this time they called into our office to thank us for the work that we had done in getting the visa granted.
This is when I first met this lady and we have been in contact by e mail, Skype and telephone since then. During our first meeting I mentioned that I would dearly love to visit India when I embarked on a belated gap year.(Not having gone to university and having gone into an apprenticeship straight from school). In May of 2010 we received a phone call in the office from India and I was invited to visit the country. In the not to distant future I am going to spend a month in India to stay with my new friend.
Hence the setting up of this blog where I hope to keep relatives and friends in touch with my trip.
I am in possession of a visa to travel to India (which was relatively easy as compared to the old colonial attitudes of the UKBA)
I have spoken to a number of people who have visited the country to get an oversight and they have all spoken about the generosity of the Indian people and a few have remarked that once you visit you will be itching to get back there.
Next month I fly with British Airways from London To Hyderabad and then on an internal flight of approximately one hour to Rajahmundry, followed by an hours journey by road to my destination.
The trip is now coming together slowly.
Went to the local GP yesterday to get my jabs up to date. Had to have Typhoid and Diphtheria, Tetanus and Polio and have been walking round in the George Bush style since, akin to a muscle bound wrestler.
Visited Boots in the centre of Cardiff for advice on anti malaria pills. The practice nurse seemed to be rather blasé about malaria and I was told not to take medication unless I need it, but I have decided to err on the side of caution and have bought enough for the trip.
Have to start medication one week before travel, then throughout the trip, then for a month after return.The more you look into the malaria situation the more frightening it becomes.
I made an enquiry with the pharmacist as to whether I could get the tablets on the NHS, but was told that because of the relatively low price of the medication, doctors did not prescribe them and that will be £51 thank you!!!
5th November 2010
Departure date is now becoming increasingly close and I have bought a netbook to take on my travels to hopefully keep friends in touch.
I leave Cardiff at 8am for the journey to Heathrow, Terminal 5, arriving at 11.30 then I have to make an online check-in at the airport, which will hopefully eliminate hassle later on.
I then have a six hours stop over at Hyderabad before getting the 10.25 flight to Rajamundry arriving at 11.45 local time, where hopefully my friend will be waiting to continue the one hour road journey to the village of Nalluru.
It appears that Nalluru is quite remote, on the Bay of Bengal. I tried to send my friends some flowers to thank her for all the organising she has been doing for the trip (more later). I contacted Interflora online and ordered the flowers only to be told by them a few hours later that they have no florists in the area!
There is a dilemma as to whether to take a rucksack or case for the journey. I would prefer a rucksack but the issue of security arises, as they are not lockable and whatever I take will go through a number of check-ins at Hyderabad and Rajahmundry plus the hour’s road journey.
I appreciate that there is a mass of text on this particular blog at present but I hope to be uploading some photographs when the trip starts.
14th November 2010
I have been particularly moved by the good wishes and generosity of a number of people regarding this trip. In particular all my former work colleagues and my former employer!
There appears to be very little information about my destination Nall'uru but i have found this entry on Wikipedia.
I answered the phone at home yesterday and was greeted by a number of children's voices singing happy birthday to me from India.
From here on in its laptop and searching for wi-fi/internet access.
The adventure begins!!
Monday 15th November 2010
Arrived at Terminal 5 and checked in on line at the terminal machines,
Online checking seems a bit pointless as you still have to queue at the bag drop. The amount that some people try to check in is amazing. 3 hour wait for flight, through security ok.
9.5 hr flight that was uneventful.
Tuesday 16th November 2010 (I think)
Arrived at Hyderabad at 5.15 local time am now waiting to check in for 10.30am flight to Rajahmundry with Jet Airways, facilities very sparse in departure lounge, should have stayed out a little longer, managed to get a coffee, 20 rupees, about 30p on airport!!
Left Hyderabad on a 50 seater propeller plane for the flight to Rajahmundry which took about an hour. The airport was little more than a strip with a few buildings but everything was very efficient and bags were off loaded almost immediately. I was met outside by my host Vijaya and a few members of her family and was presented with garlands and bunches of flowers. We then loaded into a people carrier for the 1 hour trip to Nall’uru.
This is where the adventure really started!! This was really rural, but the traffic was horrendous with masses of large lorries painted in all colours and carrying sometimes excessive loads, no treads on their tyres and thundering along what come mostly be described as farm tracks but which were in fact main roads, scooters were everywhere some carrying almost the same loads as the trucks!
Mainly there were people everywhere in various forms of dress from Western to traditional, herds of cows seemed to be wandering willy nilly and chickens everywhere.
This was where the poverty of some parts really hits you, the villages we passed through mainly consisted of houses made of reeds and looked very dark inside, but I could see the light of tv screens in some. Women seemed to be doing the majority of the work, as we passed through the villages with lots of gatherings of men. Vijaya tells me that unemployment in the area is very high and those that do work sometimes work for a few pounds a day. It was difficult to take everything in as there was so much going on and I’ll add to the text of this in the next few days as I remember things.
We eventually arrived in the village of Nall’uru, which is mainly an agricultural village but there are home industries that make sari material. but goodness knows where it is as we travelled down some long twisted lanes to get there and arrived at Vijayas mothers where I was met by various members of her family and friends and had a cold drink. We then moved onto Vijayas house which is on the 2nd floor of a building, with a lounge/kitchen, two bedrooms and a bathroom.
After a short rest we went to visit the Lily Packham Hostal for Girls and I was greeted by all the girls who covered me in flower petals as we entered. I then met all the girls individually, all 29, they all looked so happy and well dressed and contented, Vijaya told me about the problems with some of the families that resulted in them being in the hostal, one family of three being wiped out by attacks by snakes. I then handed out the to the girls the gifts that Julie and I had bought for them and the donation that Julie had so generously given to the scheme. We then had a short question and answer session and left shortly after, I know the names now of all the girls, but remembering them will be a problem as I have met so many people since arriving.
After leaving the hostel I met with Vijayas neighbours who were rice farmers and a large amount of their house was taken up by sacks of rice that they were storing,
Vijaya is a brilliant host and has gone to an enormous amount of trouble to make my stay a good one. She is helped at her home by Lex (just an abbreviation) who is also brilliant and has spent my time here helping me to remember the Indian for hello "mamiskarem" I understand that Lex, who is 27, lost her husband to TB five years ago and was married at the age of 13, she has 2 beautiful children and is struggling to bring them up alone.
Lex and her children. Vijaya (right) and Lex
I am already overwhelmed by the country and the friendliness and generosity of the people I have met, most of whom have very little but are more than willing to share what they have.
We had an early night last night about 9.30. Next door is a Hindu temple and I understand the majority of people in the area are Hindu (93%). At 3 am I was woken by recorded prayer music being blasted out from the speakers at the temple and then prayer being given by the local Hindu priest through the speakers. This continued until 8 am and I had to resort to earplugs as the temple is right below my bedroom window, but they were to no avail. I eventually got back to sleep about 8am and woke up, very drowsily at 11.30am to a breakfast of coffee and cake.
We wandered around the village in the afternoon and I was struck by the extreme poverty that existed, but everybody had a smile and a greeting. I took a walk alone for a little while, but was soon mobbed by small children who followed me everywhere. I appear to be some sort of a celebrity, only because they see very few Westerners.
Catch the cool dude in the shades!!
In the evening we returned to the hostel to eat with the girls. Coconut rice and chicken curry were served on a bed of banana leaf along with a salad and I joined everybody in eating with my fingers. One of the girls had a birthday the next day and she was presented with a cake which I helped her to cut and distribute.
In the evening I had a long chat with Vijaya about the whole situation of the hostel and her life, it is clear that she has to earn some money for herself, but she is really concerned about the funding of the hostel as it is housed in a rented building and the landlord puts the rent up frequently. The ideal situation would be to buy some land and build, but the cost of this is prohibitive. She is also concerned about her personal life as she is in her 30’s and not yet married and fears that her family could not afford the dowry that goes with marriage. She gave up a promising academic career to be responsible for the hostel and the whole project is precarious. She desperately needs to earn some money for herself but is not sure how to achieve this. I am thinking of ways to help.
Thursday 18th November 2010
Yesterday was a quiet day as I found that I am having problems getting used to the heat. There was a Hindu wedding in the village where lots of music was playing and drummers were wandering around the village.
In the evening I was to attend a meeting in the local community hall where approx. 250 members of the church and children had assembled. What greeted me was a complete surprise, as I was asked to sit on the stage below a huge banner proclaimed “Welcome to Peter Howe” and then had to address the people on the background as to why I was here in their village. We were then entertained by various groups of dancers from the hostel. It was a truly moving experience and I got quite emotional. A late night but woken up at 5am by the chanting from the Hindu temple!
Friday 19th November 2010
Had another quiet day today, so far (14.30) But I believe that we are going out to Vijayas mums house this evening for a meal.
On Monday we embark on a 20hr train journey to Delhi and Agra for the Taj Mahal and I think this journey is going to be taxing, so am glad of the rest on the lead up to the journey. We are away for 10 days and Vijaya assures me that when we get back to Nall’uru the weather will be cooler!
Saturday 20th November 2010
More noise from the temple last night so spent most of the night reading. I made a chicken curry today, under the guidance of Vijaya and Lex. Also booked some accommodation on line for our nights in Agra 23rd & 24th November, room for 3 people, myself, Vijaya and her brother Reuben, with air conditioning, en suite, breakfast and pick from the train, 2000INR, about £30, will report later what it was like!!
Sunday 21st November 2010
Not much sleep again last night, the temple started up at 3am. I am thinking of reporting them to environmental enforcement for noise pollution! Went to the church today for the Sunday service and was presented with more garlands after the church service I went for a motorbike ride with a few of the local boys and took masses of photos which I will attempt to upload
The moon over Nall'uru
Monday 22nd November 2010
Travelling today on the train from Rajahmundry to Agra which is going to take for ever! Started off on Monday 11am and eventually got to Agra on Tuesday 23rd at 10am
The train was chaotic but we had some bunks which were not badish!
Tuesday 23rd November 2010
In Agra we stayed in a hotel recommended by Travellerspoint members The Taj Home Stay, we were met at the station by a taxi driver and driven to the hotel which was quite close and had a triple room with en suite facilities and complimentary breakfast for 2000 INR (£28) excellent! No I don't have a fetish about toilets even though I have seen some pretty interesting ones on this trip, but felt readers might be interested in this
which was In our hotel in Agra. Parryware Cardiff. It seems that we still have some manufacturing in the UK, even though its at the bottom end of the market!!
Disregard the last blurb about Parryware I have just googled them and it appears that it is an Indian company that has a Cardiff range, but there must be a Welsh connection somewhere, Parryware.
In Agra I was turned on to puri which are a crisp like shell filled with different things they are really tasty but our stop at a local street stall were what I believe the onset of my first bout of the "Belly" and I had not yet reached the capital!!
I won't go into the the intimate details of the "Belly" but it is indeed a force to be reckoned with!! Sophie may understand (a family topic!!)
From Agra we travelled by taxi by to Delhi which was the best option taking 5 hours.
Motorway service station
A fellow traveller!
We stayed there for 2 nights and did the sites including the Taj Mahal.
As you can imagine the place was crawling with tourists and security was quite tight You are only allowed to take in a still camera and phone as I had a full bag I had to leave it in a local shop recommended by a guide at the Taj Mahal, which I was not particularly happy about but everything went fine.
There were various other sites we saw in Agra but I get fed up with the commercialisation of major tourist sites and the constant hassling by vendors etc. I can't help feeling that the maharajah that built the Taj Mahal for his lover and is buried there with her would be horrified if he knew that what was supposed to be a serene burial spot is now being trampled underfoot by many thousand of tourists each day, who seemed to be pre-occupied by scrawling their names in the masonary. I pledge to avoid tourist traps in the future!
We had a slight altercation with a local tuk tuk driver but all went well in the end.
Tuk tuks are every where and are an affordable means of travel. I have been made to wait an extra 30 minutes for a tuk tuk as the first driver wouldn't agree to Reuben (Vijayas brother), arguing for a few rupees less for the fare, which amounted to about 4p. But this just goes to show how tight money is over here.
As I type this, Vijaya her mother (Mama) and Lex are sat on the floor behind me engaged in a rather animated conversation. God knows what its about, but it sounds serious!!
The bottom bit of a very tired Indian coach driver.
We then travelled onto Delhi and stayed our first night in the YMCA which was pretty central but expensive about £70 per room. We then contacted Reubens cousin who is an officer in the Indian navy and he set about finding us better and cheaper accommodation out of town. This was my first ride in a tuk tuk in a city and the only way to describe it is manic!! If you think London traffic is bad, try Delhi in the rush hour there is much blowing of car horns in India but Delhi exceeded them all and the tuk tuks got into the tiniest of places changing lanes all the time. Crossing the roads as a pedestrian is one of the most dangerous tasks I have encountered in my 64 years
From Delhi we travelled to Jaipur in Rajistan, I'm afraid dates are all a blur to me now, but we stayed in Jaipur for one day and had to catch the 6am train back to Delhi next morning so we stayed in the "Retiring Rooms" at the station, very basic but £3 per person!! We saw lots on good sights in Jaipur including the Albert Hall museum a relic from the colonial days
1938 Restored Dodge Jaipur
Poppadom for 6...or more!
Back in Delhi at about 10am and had to find a hotel for the day until about 11pm, when the epic journey by train back to Rajahmundry (40hrs) would begin. A word to travellers, and we had been warned before, never accept an offer to find accommodation from touts outside stations, however appealing it may appear as its generally rip off. We succumbed to such an offer and were taken to what can only be described as a hovel, where we obviously decided not to stay, but had to pay 200INR just for signing the register, which went straight to the tout.
The train was surreal and went on and on and on, my stomach was not feeling particularly settled before the journey, so I was trying to stay off the spiced food for a few days before and eat fruit. On the train I shared a compartment with an Indian guy and his young daughter, who had been living in Sweden of the last 20 odd years. They travelled from Stockholm to Moscow (6hrs) Moscow to Delhi (2hrs), Delhi to Rajahmundry(40hrs by train) then a further 3 hours by road!! They had copious supplies of fruit and were sharing their oranges, apples and drinks with me and we became good friends before the end of the journey!
We arrived in Rajahmundry eventually and got a taxi back to Nall'uru, not before stopping at the roadside for fresh papaya, lush!! Thanks go to LB. for reminding me of this word x!!
I think I spent the next few days in the village traumatised after the journey!!
Sunday 5th December 2010
We went to the grave of Gordon Packham near to the village with all the girls, but on Saturday we spent a good deal of time taking the petals off flowers to spread on the grave of Mr Packham and Vijayas father who are buried side by side.
The hostal girls at the graves of Mr Packham and Vijayas dad.
Monday 6th December 2010
Travelled to Rajahmundry after lunch and stayed for a few hours wandering around the city, which apparently is a holiday destination for a number of Indians in the season, but a rather unremarkable town.
We then caught the 9pm train to Hyderabad and i had a good sleep on the train arriving at 6am and was checked into a hotel by 7am. Vijaya went to stay with her sister whose husband is a Lutheran minister living on the outskirts of the city. This gave me the opportunity to wander around on my own for a few hours each day. As usual the city was frequently gridlocked with traffic and the pollution was dreadful
Visited a number of markets in Hyderabad but they were full of tat rather like UK markets, but did eventually find a Western style shop to do my Christmas shopping and did it all in about 3 hours.
Wednesday 15th December 2010
1.30am I am now at Hyderabad airport waiting for the 7.20am flight back to Heathrow