Holidaying at Home – a trip back to the UK

We have just returned from a wonderful, busy, enjoyable three weeks in the UK. We have met family and friends, eaten lots of delicious food and drank lots of wine and Prosecco. We have also visited historic monuments, tourist attractions and traditional seaside activities such as the pier and arcades. The weather was traditionally British with glorious sunshine followed by torrential rain. We had a great time.

Instead of detailing everything we did, I thought I would post a some pictures as ‘a picture speaks a thousand words’. The contrast between the UK and India is stark. The most noticeable to us was the pavements and general cleanliness as well as the great transport links. The parks and other open spaces was another contrast. Make up your own minds though and enjoy some holiday snaps.

The London Eye
The London Eye with the Palace of Westminster behind
The London Eye – Palace of Westminster and the River Thames
View across London from the London Eye with HMS Belfast on the Thames
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Zahra on the South Bank of the River Thames with the Houses of Parliament in the background
Art work benches on the South Bank
The Lego store – Lego tube train
Lego store – Lego postbox
Lego store – Lego Tower of Westminster
Lego store – Lego telephone box
Lego store – pick and mix
Traditional fish and chips outside the Tower of London
The Tower of London – Crown Jewels
The Tower of London
Beefeater at the Tower of London
The Tower of London Chapel
Tower of London
Tower Bridge
On Tower Bridge
Tower Bridge and the Tower of London
Shopping Arcade by the Thames
Shopping street in Southport – a seaside town
Clambering over the sand dunes towards the sea
A seagull tries to raid the litter bin
Seagulls successfully steal doughnuts on Southport Pier
Southport Pier train
Southport Bridge
Cambridge Arcade, Southport
Phone boxes and churches on Southport Lord Street
Marine Lake, Southport
Deer in Bushey Park
The deer in Bushey Park get a bit too close
Deer in Bushey Park
Deer in Bushey Park
Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre
Inside Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre
Seeing Gangsta Granny at the theatre
Hyde Park with Grandad
Feeding Geese in Hyde Park
Feeding the birds in Hyde Park
Strolling in Hyde Park
The travelling fair comes to Shepherds Bush
Walking Betsy in Crystal Palace Park
The Shrek Adventure wasn’t that much of an adventure.
Farmor and Zahra in front of the Westminster Tower (Big Ben) in traditional English weather
Feeding the ducks in Crane Park
Adventure playground in Crane Park
Playing in Crane Park
Playing in Crane Park
London Eye capsule and the Thames

Holidaying in Hyderabad 

Saturday 

Arrival

We arrived at the bustling and bright Hyderabad airport in the afternoon and were met at the airport with traditional flower garlands by our friends. We hopped into a cab and chatted along the drive into Secunderabad. We checked in to the Justa Hotel on Necklace Road next to Hussain Sagar reservoir in Secunderabad. Hyderabad was so far typically Indian – rough with the smooth and filthy dirty next to pristine places – a city of contrasts like everywhere in India. The hotel was inbetween two building sites. The staff ere friendly and the room basic and clean. We dropped off our bags (and flower garlands) and headed out.

NTR Gardens and Park


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We headed out to a park called NTR Gardens. There was a small fee to get in (I think 20 rupees) and it was busy with families arriving for an evening in the park. There was plenty to do. We took the Toy Train ride around the park and people watched as we went round.  Zahra tried to break the bungi trampoline by jumping so high hopes went slack! Then there was the water slide. Sunny and Finny took Zahra on and they had fun as well as getting wet. I noticed that the were a large constituency of Muslims enjoying the park – not something often seen in Bangalore. It was a refreshing change.

Sunny, Zahra and Finny enjoying the toy train ride

Paradise Restaurant 


Getting hungry we headed over to the Paradise restaurant for the “world’s favourite biryani”. The food was good and plentiful (a take home bag was necessary) but the service was super slow which let it down. 

We went  to a local mall for a (huge) ice cream for dessert. They chop and mix the ingredients together in a display before you get your ice cream. Zahra went for ferrero rocher and there was a lot of chocolate and chocolate sauce involved!

Ice cream mixing

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Sunday 

King’s Temple Church


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Sunday involved and early start for church. We headed over to the Mahbub College Grounds for the 9am service of King’s Temple Church. The 7am service is in English, the 9am in English with immediate Telegu translation and an 11am service in Telegu. As our friends are Telegu speakers we opted for the service which suited us all at 9am.

Church traffic jam
 

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We arrived in a traffic jam. Hundreds of people were leaving the early service and hundreds of people were heading into the 9am service. The college was also a building site. The “hall” had no walls and the ceiling was under construction. Piles of building materials had to be navigated to get into the service. 

Navigating building materials at the entrance

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We were given the “elements”(communion wafer and juice), a church leaflet and a donation envelope as we walked in. We were quickly walked to plastic chairs about a third of the way from the front. The band was in full flow and the singers were giving it their all. It was a party atmosphere. There was a large stage, professional lighting and sound, a band and a blue tarpaulin covering the roof. Incredible India right here and as it is monsoon season I am glad it didn’t rain! 

The band and singers continued joyfully for some time before the pastor came on to deliver his sermon on the importance of prayer, and prayer in way that’s biblical rather than a shopping list. It was strange art first that the preacher would say a sentence or two and wait for the translator to translate his every word. The Translator also followed the preacher around the stage, keeping just a few feet away from him all the time. I quickly got used to it and settled into listening to the sermon. 

We took communion and the (many) collection buckets were circulated for tithes and donations. Then there was another sermon by video by the senior pastor, again with a translation in the recording. It ended up being rather shouty for my liking and the sound was clearly struggling with the noise and the translation became inaudible towards the end. I was quite relieved when it finished. The sermon, on prayer, was good but I had a headache from the loud shouting. The service was 2 hours long and attended by several hundred people – the congregation was huge.. I did think how many people in the U.K. would sit through a service that long. People get itchy feet when a service runs a minute over one hour in the UK!

We headed over to Cafe Coffee Day (India’s answer to Starbucks and Costa, except they don’t do soya milk) for a caffeine shot and rest. 

Salar Jung Museum

Suitably refreshed we headed over to the Salar Jung Museum. This had beautiful collections of art and objects from all over the world. The Salar Jung family were hereditary prime ministers in the Hyderabad court to the Nizams, the rulers of Hyderabad, from the middle of the 19th century. The museum was established in 1951 and moved to its current location on the banks of the river Musi in 1968. It was extended in the year 2000 when two blocks were added. Renovations to three of the galleries were in progress when we visited.


Now like most places of interest in India there is one price for Indians and one price for foreigners. In this case it was 20 rupees (25p) for an Indian and 500 rupees (£6) for a foreigner plus a 50 rupee (60p) phone camera charge. I had my FRO (Foreigner Registration Office) with me and and was going to fight my corner. We live in Bangalore and I’m not paying the extortionate foreigner rate. Purchasing the ticket wasn’t an issue. Getting passed the lady in the women’s security line was. “Madam, not Indian” greeted me when I handed over my ticket. I swiftly announced I lived here and produced copies of our visas, FRO forms, change of address – you name it I had it. The lady security guard looked flummoxed and waved over another (male) security guard who checked our documents and waved us in. Mrs security guard did not look impressed as we walked in through to the next screening (airport security style). Sometimes it is the just little things…


The collections of art and decorative objects is impressive and over the course of several hours we managed to see nearly all of it before tiredness took over. There are collections of paintings, carpets, weapons, textiles, metal work, walking sticks, furniture, jade, ivory, sculptures and much more. The statue of the “Veiled Rebecca” (by Benzoni, a 19th century Italian sculptor) and the jade collection were particular highlights. Collections are generally divided into Far East, Indian, and European spread across two floors and three wings. It’s certainly a walk to take in all the collections. There is a central hall which houses a musical clock and attracts a large crowd to watch it chime every hour. The museum also has a food court and a souvenir shop, neither of which we had time to visit. It was very busy and clearly a popular museum, which sometimes made it difficult to see or get close to some of the exhibits. The first floor exhibits were much less crowded though.

Monday

The ladies and children’s pool with water bucket

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Jalavihar Waterpark

Jalavihar (“exciting water”) waterpark. ₽250 per person admission. Own food and drink is not allowed in the park and is retained at reception until you leave. There were slides (with and without rubber rings), a wavepool (with a ladies only section), ladies and children slide and pool area and a rain disco. Dry games for kids and flocks of birds (chickens, geese, guinea fowl) wandering freely around the park. Views across the lake were stunning from the top of the slides. It was small but with lots of slides to keep a 10 year old happy for several hours until tiredness kicked in. The changing rooms were basic with toilets and showers outnumbering the four changing cubicles considerably. Lockers were available to rent at ₽100 and were small but functional. The was a food area with stalls but we didn’t eat there. It was an enjoyable day out.

Eat Street

We headed over to Eat Street afterwards for food. There are stunning views across Hussain Sagar lake. It was beautiful and peaceful. We drank our coffee and ate pizza and noodles, after all we had worked up an appetite.

Nanking Chinese Restaurant and camel ride

In the evening we headed out to the Nanking Chinese restaurant, stopping en route for a camel ride for Zahra. Two camels in the central reservation car parking with some mini fairground rides. A makeshift tourist spot. The camel ride cost ₽30 if you shared or ₽50 for a sole ride. The camels were walked about 50m away before turning round and coming back. It was short and sweet, but Zahra enjoyed it nonetheless. Camels are huge and have massive feet; just an observation.


The Nanking Chinese restaurant was pretty empty when we arrived. We ordered our food and it came promptly. We ordered small dishes and I’m glad we all didn’t order a dish each because the “small” portions were huge! One plate of “small” noodles provided three large portions. It was ridiculous. We ate as much as we could and asked for the rest of the food to be parcelled up for a takeaway. The restaurant happily obliged. 

Tuesday

Charminar 

The Charminar

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Literally means four minarets and was built by Sultan Mohamed Quli Shah between 1591 and 1612. It is in the middle of a busy market and effective operates as a roundabout, so to get to it you have to dodge traffic coming from all directions as well as market traders. It was a little hair raising! The queue was about 30 people long but we, as foreigners, were ushered to the front of the queue by a guide. Indian entry fee was 15 rupees (17p) and foreigner entry fee was 200 rupees (£2.40), children were free. I couldn’t be bothered arguing and frankly it was worth it to queue jump. We hired the guide to show us rounds (negotiated down from 300 rupees to 200 rupees) and again proved to be worth every rupee as we skipped the normal queues to go up (and down) and entered (and exited) via the restricted entry gate. We climbed the stone spiral castle like staircase to the first floor and took in the marvellous views across the busy marketplaces.

Bustling markets at the Charminar gates
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The markets on each side sell separate things. One side for lacquered bangles (mouled out of pure lac and studded with glittering cut glass), another for pearls, another for fruit and the remaining for clothes and linen. Perfume called Itar or Attar is also sold. This is traditional perfume based in sandlewood oil (rather than alcohol), and fragranced with rose or musk or jasmine.
10km underground tunnel from the Golconda Fort to the fountain under the Charminar. 

The Quabbala Shahi Dynasty was founded by Sultan Quli Qutb ul Mulk in 1518 CE.He was initially in the court of of Bahamani rulers and in due course was made The Governor of Telangana under the Bahmani Kingdom. After the death of the Bahamani Sultan he declared independence in 1518 and established the Qutb Shahi Dynasty (1518-1687 CE), which ruled over the Golkonda Kingdom comprising of Telangana, Andhra, parts of northern Karnataka, Marathwada and Berra regions for about 171 years, and by seven monarchs of the dynasty. The Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb conquered Golconda Fort in 1687 CE and subsequently annexed it to his empire.

Chowmalla Palace

A rather uninspiring entrance hid the opulence of the magnificent Chowmalal Place. It’s a large peaceful retreat in a busy bustling city with four garden courtyards and several palace buildings. It was the main residence of the ruling nizams in the 18th and 19th centuries.  The most opulent of these halls is the Khilwat Mubarak; a Durban hall with magnificent crystal chandeliers and a balcony. It is at the heart of the palace and the coronation of VIII Nizam was held here on 6th April, 1967.

Khilwat Mubarak
The adjoining halls had various antique collections including an armoury of the Asaf Jami Dynasty. 

Amongst the various palace buildings there was an impressive collection of antique cars, including Rolls Royces. It was a pleasant and peaceful walk with plenty to see.


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Wednesday

Today was a rest day at our friend’s home. We had mahendi done. A much needed relaxing day.


Thursday

Nehru Zoological Park was our destination today and it proved to be a good walk too. It’s a sprawling zoo in 300 acres, part of which is a ‘safari’ (aka wild) area. Most of the animals are contained within moated areas but the big cats were rather depressingly in small cages. There were additional fees to look around the very small aquarium, the nocturnal exhibits (literally too dark to see anything in places, including where you are walking) and the ‘safari’ to see the lions and tigers.  Whilst it was cleaner than most zoos we have visited in India it was still a building site in places and some of the animals displayed signs of distress by pacing or swaying on the spot. The lions and tigers in the ‘safari’ were in cages.

Unusually, there was a temple to Hunaman (the monkey god) inside the zoo.

Facilities were few as there was only one food area within the entire zoo and only one set of toilets. Both left much to be desired. 

Sign showing the way to the temple
Building works in front of the elephant enclosure
Spelling is everything
The only map of the zoo we saw, half way round

Friday

We had a trip to the Birla Science Museum and modern art gallery on Friday. Zahra had a great time in the interactive zone.

The interactive zone
Measurements are so important

Then we went to the famous 10 Downing Street (“10D”) pub for lunch. It’s inside a small shopping mall and worth finding as the lunchtime special menu was super cheap for 3 courses including a drink.

10 Downing Street pub

Boat ride to Buddha statue

Buddha
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Hussain Sagar is a large reservoir (from the 17th century!) which separates Secunderabad from Hyderabad built by Husain Shah Wali. The Buddha statue is on the island in the reservoir. Boats ferry across tourists at regular intervals for a small fee. It is the largest monolithic statue of Gautam Buddha in India. It was carved out of a single granite rock by 40 sculptors under the guidance of Ganapati Stapathi. It was transported 60kms from Raigiri on a massive carriage with 192 wheels. It was erected in December 1992 is 17m high and weighs 320 tonnnes. It was consecrated by His Holiness the Dalia Lama on 2nd January 2006.

Holidaying in Hyderabad 

There was certainly a lot to see and do in Hyderabad and we didn’t see it all in this trip. We have previously been to the Golconda Fort so didn’t visit it again this time. There were various palace hotels and mosques and temples we didn’t have time to see either. If you’re in India it’s certainly worth a trip, especially as flights and accommodation are so cheap. 

One day in Bangkok


Airport Arrival

We arrived in Bangkok in the early hours of the morning. After some confusion about whether we need a visa or not – we’d flown from India (visa required) on UK passports (no visa required) – we were ushered through passport control (without a visa). Collected our bags, visited the loos and breathed. It was clean. It was quiet. It was modern. The contrast from Bangalore was there already. We booked a cab and were taken to a clean car (without bumps and dents) with Aircon and leather seats and seat belts. Another huge contrast. 

Journey to the hotel

We marvelled at the smooth roads. No potholes, no random people walking in the road, no cows, no dogs, no goats, no people sweeping the roads with twigs and a flag to alert the traffic, no cars randomly stopped on the road, no piles of rubbish. There was lane discipline and use of signals, no dodgy u turns on highways or vehicles travelling in the wrong direction and most notably- no constant use of the horn. It was quiet. It was smooth (not like Bangalore where you feel you are off roading all the time). It was straight (no ‘whacky races’ here). There weren’t animals roaming around. It was clean. We sat back and enjoyed the ride. How refreshing.

Chatrium Riverside Hotel

Quick and efficient check in (another huge contrast to Bangalore) and got us to our room quickly knowing we were tired from the journey. The room is large with a kitchenette and overlooks the river. There is a welcome plate of fruits we can’t identify! After a few hours catching up on sleep we headed down for lunch in the lobby restaurant. Once again we were a bit overwhelmed by the choice. Zahra went for a sausage roll and I think she merely inhaled it! The food was delicious – and it was served together (unlike Bangalore where meals come as they are cooked so no one eats at the same time.). It was Zahra who noticed this and commented. 

The concierge was extremely helpful showing us how to get to places of interest on the map, how much it would costs and the scams to avoid! We headed for the Grand Palace but arrived just as it was shutting (and long trousers are required). The security got our map out and showed us where to go in the area, got us a uniformed Tuk Tuk (regulated driver), bargained with him for us and sent us on our way with a cheery “see you tomorrow”. It took less than 5 mins and was a bit of a whirlwind, but nevertheless funny and helpful. They’ve clearly had to do that many times before.

Wat Intharawihan Temple


It was around 4pm when we arrived at the temple, so it was relatively quiet. We were able to wander around unimpeded and take a leisurely look at the temple and the shrines and the huge golden Buddha statue. At 32 metres (105 ft) high, 10 metres (33 ft) wide the standing Buddha statue (referred to as Luang Pho To or “Phra Si Ariyamettrai”) was built between 1867 and 1927, taking 60 years to complete.  Ajon Toh, the then Abbott of the temple, was the inspiration to build it but he died at the foot of the image in 1871. A gilded bust of this Abbott is enshrined at the temple entrance. 

The Buddha is carrying a bowl. There are (steep!) stairways at the sides to the back behind the statue  which provides access (for devotees) to paste gold leaf on the statue. The image is called Luang Phor To.  The statue which is decorated in glass mosaics tiles is gilded with 24-carat gold. The topknot, called Ushnisha, of the Buddha statue contains a relic of lord Buddha (which was given as a gift by the Government of Sri Lanka).

China Town

After some negotiations with a few Tuk Tuk drivers we finally found one that would take us to China Town without ripping us off or stopping at a tailors to get a suit made! The Tuk Tuks here are clean and comfortable and fast (traffic dependent obviously).  Yaowarat Road in Samphanthawong district is home to Bangkok’s Chinatown.  We walked through the small narrow lanes and backstreets of Chinatown’s Sam Pheng Market. Trading had finished for the day and the stall holders were packing away the myriad of goods they had been selling. They were sweeping and washing the street and rubbish was collected neatly in bags piled ready for collection. Yet another stark contrast to Bangalore (where nobody collects rubbish, cleans or tidies their street stall). It was fascinating. We wandered back onto the main Yaowarat Road where the food stalls were quickly being set up and some were already very busy. There are few restaurants to go in and eat – the majority of food here is street food and some stalls have makeshift seating and tables to facilitate this. It is a complete contrast to London’s small Chinatown full of restaurants. 

T&K Seafood – fresh everyday!
We had a look on the Internet and chose one of the restaurants on the ‘top 10 restaurants in Chinatown’ list – T&K seafood. It looked like a builders cafe but looks can be deceiving. It was all fresh fish on the menu and it was delicious. Fried large prawns (in shell), garlic fried prawns and crab fried rice were washed down with freshly squeezed orange juice (no added sugar here thankfully). It was delicious. All for 850 Baht (£17).

The place was buzzing when we left but we were too tired to explore anymore so we hailed a cab and headed back to the hotel for a nightcap before bed. It was an enjoyable first day.

KempeGowda International Airport, Bangalore

Kempegowda is the name of the International airport at Bangalore / Bengaluru. Some international airports are obviously named after a person (John F Kennedy, Charles De Gaulle, Indira Gandhi) or the city in which they are (Cairo, Ouagadougou, Dallas Fort Worth). (Cue everyone googling Ouagadougou.) Kempegowda is named after an ancient feudal ruler.

Who is Kempe Gowda?

Kempegowda is named after Kempe Gowda who founded Bengaluru in 1537. He was also known as Hiriya Kempe Gowda and was a feudal ruler under the Vijayanagara Empire.He got two pairs of bullocks and plough the ground. While one pair ploughed east to west, the other pair went from north to south and made the four main streets in the upcoming town. Along these streets and sublanes developed various markets (petes). His vision for the city included forts, farms, petes (markets), tanks (water reservoirs) and temples so that people of all trades and professions could live there.

The bullocks started ploughing in a place called Doddapete Circle today. There are four tower like structures which were built to mark the importance of that place. (They are derelict today – maintenance of historical monuments is not a priority here.) 

Kempegowda International Airport 

The airport serves Bangalore, the state capital of Karnataka in Southern India. It is spread over 4,000 acres and is located 40km /25m north of the city near the village of Devanahalli. It opened in May 2008 as an alternative to the congested HAL airport. It is the third busiest airport in India (after Dehli and Mumbai). It handled 18 million passengers in 2015 with 400 aircraft movements a day. International flights arrive in the early hours of the morning and the cacophony of noise from the cars, taxis and other vehicles beeping and jockeying for space is phenomenal as they try to pick up their passengers. 

Like any other airport it has cargo as well as passenger facilities, cafes, some shops and duty free stores. The cafes are popular in the mornings but the shops are very quiet and rarely have many, if any, customers. The prices are expensive compared to what can be bought in the city.

Getting into the airport itself is interesting. Only passengers on the manifest lists who can show a valid ticket and passport are allowed past the armed border security at the doors. There can be some confusion if for example a passenger is not in the BA flight manifest when their ultimate destination is London, UK. BA is the only flight that flies direct to London so any passenger getting an internal flight to eg Dehli to change to Virgin to fly to London causes much consternation.

When you’re flying home to the UK there is no greater sight than seeing the airport, knowing you are leaving the chaos that is Bangalore behind you.