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. 

Bonalu

Front page picture from the Hyderabad Times

What is it? 

Bonalu is a folk festival celebrated in the Telangana region, Andhra Pradesh. This century-old tradition is observed with gaiety and devotional fervour. 

When is it?

It is during the month of Asadh. This is Sunday 25th June to Sunday 16th July in 2017. 

How is it celebrated?

This month long festival is marked by devotional singing and ritualistic worship of the village deities. The ‘Ghatams’ or decorated pots, filled with flowers, are the main attraction of the festival. The flower pots are carried on the heads of women in a procession. Similarly cooked rice is also carried by women on their heads to the local goddess accompanied by male drummers. Every Sunday from the end of June throughout July there are colourful celebrations ongoing.

Bonalu is celebrated chiefly in the cities of Hyderabad and Secunderabad ( where we happen to be on holiday at the moment). Saree Jagadambika Temple located on the top of the Golconda Fort attracts the most devotees from the region. The state government also performs puja officially on behalf of the people. Temples are decorated. 

In Hyderabad the newspapers reported low attendance at work from female employees who were celebrating Bonalu. Some employers are allowing female staff to leave early to visit temples for puja. Office are reported to be in a festive atmosphere as ladies distribute sweets to colleagues dressed for the occasion. 

Kabini

The Kabini

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The Kabini River is surrounded by stunning landscapes, forests, wildlife and birds. It is tranquil (eerily quiet after the constant noise of Bangalore) and beautiful. We watched the sun set over the hills from our villa listening to the monsoon rain lashing into the river and were woken by the sound of the dawn chorus from the huge variety of birds. It was idyllic. I could have stayed a lot longer. 

The journey

A goat herd blocks the way

The Kabini lake is a large forest lined reservoir about 70km south of Mysore. The guide book indicated it was a 5 hour drive from Bangalore along the state highway 17 ( the main road between Mysore and Bangalore) then state highway 33 from Mysore to Mananthavady before winding through local villages to get to Kabini itself.

We left on Saturday morning for our weekend away. We usually leave on Friday evening and do part of the journey then to break up the travel. However we had a leaving party to go to on the Friday evening so travel was out of the question. It turned out to be a good decision. The roads to Kabini are best described as variable; some have tarmac (in various degrees of repair) whilst others are merely mud and rock. This was the only road to our destination and frequently goats, cows and dogs blocked the road. There were no street lights and it was across winding roads through farmland. I can’t think how anyone can make that route safely at night; it was difficult enough during the daytime.

 It wasn’t helped by me being sick at the roadside part way through the journey. As I don’t usually get car sick I assume it was the revenge of Bangalore Belly. Toilet stops are rare on the highway (never mind the village roads) so I had the indignity of being watched by intrigued locals as I emptied my stomach for all to see. I’m so glad we carry water and tissues with us everywhere.

We arrived at our destination 6 hours after we had departed Bangalore. Not a bad journey time but difficult nonetheless. The road to the hotel was pretty much off roading which is surprising when you’re going to an expensive place. 

The Hotel

As we pulled in to the complex staff were ready to greet us (having called on our way asking for our estimated time of arrival). We were greeted by a tribal flute player and being adorned with the traditional red bindi on the middle of the forehead. We were ushered into the arrivals lounge and check in was swift and easy. We were offered sugar cane juice as we gazed out of the lounge looking over the Kabini. It was so quiet. 

Various staff members introduced themselves and what the hotel had to offer. We were assigned a specific staff member whose responsibility it was to take care of all of our needs during our stay. Nothing would be too much trouble. We were handed an envelope detailing activities, timings and were applicable charges. We asked immediately to be booked onto a Safari for the following day, having been advised that places are limited and book up quickly. The naturalist looked crest fallen as he advised me that it might not be possible but he would do his best. (He managed it by dinner).

Our assigned staff member then walked us through the complex and pointed out various places and activity points on the way. We arrived at our pool villa which overlooked the Kabini and were shown its features. The mini bar was complimentary (soft drinks and snacks) and would be relensihed daily. There was a snack box and fruit bowl. Anything we specifically wanted would be provided. Zahra immediately asked for some Mysore Pak (a plate was provided) and I asked for some more tea (also provided). Really nothing was too much trouble. The chefs took pleasure in providing specific dairy free meals and desserts for me during our stay which made it great for me (as meals at hotels are usually difficult and I’m made to feel difficult for asking for dairy free). 

The villa was so relaxing. We swam and rested by our private pool. We sat out watching the birds along the Kabini river as the sun set. It was quiet but for the sounds of wildlife.

The hotel has a spa, an infinity pool for adults and a children’s pool with slide and games area. None of which we used during our weekend stay – we simply didn’t have time. There was an information display informing of the animals, birds and insects surrounding the hotel. There was also a tribal hut and butterfly garden. We visited the reading room with its majestic views across the Kabini. We took in the stunning landscape whilst we rested awhile. 

There were a series of activities planned for children including The Little Bartender, Plant a Sapling, Little Baker, Young Naturalist, Young Hotelier and Towel Artist. Zahra was content with the pool and didn’t want to participate. She was having a relaxing holiday too!
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Bathroom
Bathroom leading to pool
Master bedroom
Lounge (equipped with Sky TV)
Dining area (with extra bed next to the open roof)
Villa entrance from the pool
Private pool in the villa
Daddy and daughter at Kabini
Pretty pots light the way

Tribal Dance Display

The Kadu Kurubas (“forest shepherds” in Kannada) are the original inhabitants of the forests of Nagarhole. They were originally hunter gatherers before switching to Swidden agriculture (slash and burn farming method), then collection of forest produce and basket weaving. They now work as small farmers around the forest.

The hotel, as part of its responsible tourism program, arranges displays from the local tribesmen of their celebratory dances. We were educated in three tribal dances and guests were encouraged to join in the last. We watched. 

Tribal dance display

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Wildlife Safari

Nagarhole National Park is home to some of the most endangered (and elusive!) species in the world. Nagarhole means “cobra river” in Kannada, so named as it snakes through the tropical forests. The Park was set up in 1955 and extended in 1974 when it was accorded National Park status and dammed for an irrigation project. The Park is home to the tiger, asiatic Elephant, leopard and a myriad of other wildlife species.

Nagarhole National Park strictly controls the tourist incursions and they are limited in number, times and areas of the park to reduce the impact on the wildlife. They exclusively manage the jeep safaris and allocate resorts in the area a specific number of seats. As a consequence the twice daily safaris fill up very quickly. They are 6:30am to 9:30am and 3pm to 6pm. We were allocated the early morning slot meaning a wake up call of 5:15am for a meet time of 5:45am to cross the river to get to the Nagarhole National Park by 6:30am. It was a tough get up. It was even tougher for a 10 year old who was basically walking asleep!

Our jeep was like a small bus with 17 tourists. It was a noisey diesel engine so any wildlife would hear us coming a long way off. The guide gave us all a pair of binoculars and told us to keep our cameras ready.

Spotted deer were everywhere in large and small herds. We saw a Sambar deer, which is the size of a small horse, but were unable to get a picture of the camera shy animal. The Malabar Giant Squirrel proved equally elusive to the camera as did the Gaur. Birds proved impossible to capture but I was pleased to spot a rare white bellied woodpecker. I was able to take some shots from my phone of some of the animals we saw. The elephant was particularly close and completely uninterested in our presence as he ate his breakfast.

Monkeys
Spotted deer
Langur Monkeys
A pack of Wild Dogs
A tusker

Departure

Check out on the last day was as swift as check in. The chef had prepared a hearty packed lunch for us for our journey home. They took feedback seriously and strived for excellence. They called and messaged us later in the day to ensure we got home safely. Now that is what I call excellent service.

It was too short a holiday and a brief stay in idyllic surroundings. I would highly recommend a trip to Kabini and especially a stay at Orange County (and no, they haven’t paid me for this post – it’s a good old fashioned recommendation based on experience.)

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.

Fun and Festivities in the UK

Fabulous 40th Birthday cake from the Liverpool Cake Company


The Journey

On the 26th April I left my family behind in the sweltering sun of a Bangalore heatwave (43C in the shade) and headed back to the UK for a week of fun, family and friends. The whole journey from Bangalore, India to Southport, Merseyside, UK took 20 hours door to door and involved planes, trains and automobiles. The BA outbound flight was full, with tetchy cabin crew, a faulty entertainment system and a cabin that could have done with a deep clean. Not the best start to a journey home. 

When I landed in Heathrow I headed straight over to a Boots store and bought a ham sandwich. It really is amazing what you miss when living abroad. A decent ham sandwich is one of them. There’s got to be a whole blogpost to come on how long it takes to make a ham sandwich in Bangalore. Something so simple in the UK is so difficult in Bangalore and demonstrates the daily challenges of life. Anyway, I digress, the sandwich was yummy.

The Weather

My arrival in Manchester was greeted with a fabulous hail storm. It was so thoroughly refreshing and even better that I was able to view it from the airport walkway and not get caught in it! Over the course of the week in the UK there was sun, rain, sleet, snow and hail – literally all the seasons in one week. It was blessed relief from the searing Bangalore temperatures and typically British. It was wonderful. I miss it. I miss the seasons too. 

Southport 

My sister met me at Southport train station with a very refreshing Pimms and lemonade in a glass. Cheers! We headed to the chippy (fish and chip shop) around the corner from her house. Fish, chips and mushy peas have never tasted so good. Yes I know it’s a stereotype but hey I miss fish and chips more than I ever thought I would. 

My twin joined us the following day and the sisters headed out for a celebratory meal at The Sparrowhawk. This used to be called the TreeTops Hotel and it was were Mandy and me celebrated our 40th birthdays several years ago. It was only fitting that we should celebrate our ‘little’ sister’s 40th birthday too. The pub has been transformed from the slightly tired hotel to a modern welcoming pub with fabulous food. As the Liverpool Echo reported:

The Sparrowhawk is a pub. A proper pub. You can sit at the bar with your paper, sup from any of their six real ales, toast yourself in front of a fire and feel quite at home.

But you won’t want to.

After 10 minutes of watching plate after plate of beautifully presented, delicious looking dishes of hearty food paraded past your eyes, you’ll want to eat, too.

We toasted with a bottle of Prosecco and peruse the menu trying to decide which of the delicious dishes we wanted to order. Alison went for the meat platter. It was enormous. A take home box was necessary. We had a fabulous evening catching up as only sisters can.

The next evening was celebratory meal at Jade Gardens, the local Chinese restaurant. We joined Alison and her friends over a set menu meal which had plenty of choice. It was lovely. Alison was spoilt with presents and balloons and a birthday rendition with a gong!

The following day was Alison’s actual 40th birthday and the morning started with presents and of course birthday cake for breakfast. The cake was Victoria sponge at the bottom and a dairy free lemon cake on top. It was decorated in Southport Rugby Club colours (where Alison volunteers). It was made by the lovely Gaynor at the Liverpool Cake Company (see Liverpoolcakecompany.com). It was delicious.

At lunchtime we headed off to The Hungry Monk restaurant in Cambridge Arcade, Southport. Once again the food choice was extensive and everything we ordered was delicious. After lunch it was time for me to head off to Derby and as I waved goodbye to Alison, Jamie and Mandy at the station I wondered how long it would be before I saw them again. 

Derby

A few train changes later (on surprisingly busy services) I arrived in Derby. Gosh it was cold. I huddled behind my cases on the bench outside the stain whilst I waited for Tom to collect me. It was only a few minutes before he turned up with a beaming smile. It is so lovely to see friends again. Tom and Sue had arranged for friends to come over for a fish and chip (and mushy peas) supper washed down with (quite a few bottles of ) Prosecco. Yummy. It was lovely just relaxing and catching up chatting with friends – something I really do miss in Bangalore. It was a wonderful welcome back to Derby.

The Wedding 

Saturday afternoon I arrived at Shottle Hall in Derbyshire for Amy and Becks’ wedding. I wouldn’t have missed this wedding for the world. Amy and Becks are truly two wonderful ladies and whom I have the privilege to know through Rolls Royce and Derby Hockey Clubs. It was delighted to be invited and more than happy to fly the 5048 miles to be there (it was a wedding quiz question!). 

Drinks were served on arrival and I signed the guest book and ‘wedding jenga’ brick whilst waiting and chatting with fellow hockey players. We formed a hockey stick archway for the brides to walk through after they were married. The wedding breakfast was held in a marquee attached to Shottle Hall. After playing a  rather great ice breaker of heads and tails, with questions about Becks and Amy, we took our seats for the dinner to be served. The main dish was bangers and mash; I was in heaven!  The speeches were heartfelt and emotional. The toasts were made with port in engraved shot glasses (for the guests to take away along with bottle openers). 

Then the party started. The band was the lead singer from the Drifters, Roy G Hemmings, and the music was awesome. It was also the band playing on the cruise ship when Amy proposed to Becks. After the band finished the disco started with songs played that every guest had submitted as their favourite tune to get them up on the dance floor. As a consequence the dance floor was full all night. It was a brilliant party. I didn’t actually dance all evening as I was too busy catching up with friends. At 10:30pm the jet lag and alcohol was catching up with me and I was starting to nod off. The fabulous Tom came to pick me up and take me back to Oakwood. I had a cuppa before retiring to bed. 

Sunday

Sunday was a lovely walk to church through Chaddesden Wood. Walking is something  I really miss doing in Bangalore – the heat and poor conditions make it virtually impossible. 

Bluebells in Chaddesden Wood

It was so good to go to church and spend some time, all be it brief, with the church family. Again something I really miss in Bangalore. 

After the service I walked over to Amy and Becks’ house for the ‘open house’ or ‘after party party’. I don’t know what I was expecting but it wasn’t a house full of people and a full buffet and drinks reception, which is exactly what greeted me when I turned up at 1pm. I was amazed. Not only had a wedding been held but another party catered for the following day. It was impressive. I had another lovely few hours catching up with people I hadn’t managed to chat to very much at the wedding. 

I stayed for a few hours and eventually said my goodbyes again and headed over to Eleri and Keiths’s for a cuppa and a catch up. They were in the garden erecting a new garden swing when I arrived and it was just starting to drizzle (very British weather). I stayed for an hour or so chatting – it was so relaxing.

Again I said my goodbyes and headed back to Sue and Tom’s for a delicious traditional chicken Sunday roast dinner. I was being spoiled. More Prosecco but I really couldn’t manage a red wine too and had to decline. Another friend joined us after dinner for a glass of Prosecco and we chatted whist watching Sunday evening TV (Country File).

Monday

Monday was a Bank Holiday in the UK so most people had a day off work. We headed over to Hollies, a farm shop cafe, for breakfast with friends. I don’t think I’ve ever had a reserved table for breakfast before but as there was so many of us it was necessary. I ordered a large full English Breakfast and it was delicious. We chatted for hours over breakfast and tea.

a traditional full English Breakfast

It was nearing lunchtime when we finally left and said our goodbyes. I headed over to Matt and Alex’s for a catch up and offer more encouragement to Alex who was standing as an Independent candidate in the local elections in a very safe Conservative seat. I then headed back to Tom and Sue’s and the lovely Donna came over for a cuppa and a chat. 

The Journey back to Bangalore

Again the time passed so quickly and it was time for me to head off for my train back to Manchester. I arrived at the hotel and quickly settled in for an early night ready for the long day ahead flying back to Bangalore. The flight back was pretty empty which made for a much more pleasant flight than the one out. As usual the traffic was chaotic at Bangalore airport at 5am and it took some time for our driver to navigate it to me. Zahra ran out to greet me when I arrived back – there is nothing better than a huge hug from your daughter to welcome you back. The week had passed quickly but I had missed my family.

Postscript – Food
After reviewing this blogpost I realise that food has featured highly. It is true that I do miss traditional UK fayre and the fact that I seem to constantly have Bangalore Belly whilst in India makes eating UK food even more enjoyable as I don’t have stomach upsets. I had only been back two days before Bangalore Belly struck again and incapacitated me. I did enjoy a whole week of lovely food and a settled stomach whilst in the UK. 

Our UK Holiday – Southport and Formby

It was lovely to travel on smooth ordered motorways and clean, well maintained roads from Derby to Southport. We passed green fields filled with sheep and cows. In fields. Not wandering around on roads eating rubbish. We stopped at a service station. A service station with shops, cafes and clean toilets with loo roll, soap and hot water. We stopped for a coffee and picked up some snacks. What a contrast to Bangalore.

We arrived in Woodvale, Ainsadale (where I spent the first 18 years of my life) and arrived in time to see my mother (along with other senior citizens) receiving a planter full of daffodils from the local school children. My sister arrived soon after and after huge squashed hugs we chatted over a cup of tea (yes how very British!), catching up on 6 months worth of news, events and developments.

We headed over to my brother’s house in Formby where we were staying for the duration of our visit in Southport. It’s 4 miles away and is a 10 minute drive (if that) on a dual carriageway. The same distance in Bangalore would take 20 minutes easily. We have been able to do so much during our stay because travelling around is so easy.

We settled in and enjoyed a takeaway dinner with Prosecco. It was comfort food at its best. We chilled and chatted and relaxed whilst watching a movie. It was a bit like Christmas (especially as we brought presents!).

The next morning my wonderful brother cooked a huge full English breakfast – it was delicious. We relished it. With very full tummys we headed down to Formby beach for a walk along the beach in the bracing sea air. It was so quiet. We could not hear a thing as we got out of the car and headed to the beach. It was peaceful and clean – the only rubbish was in the bins provided. Even better, the tide was in and the sea was only a few yards away. We walked to the edge of the sea but didn’t brave a paddle in the freezing temperatures! 

  

We were amused by the shoes that had been lost, abandoned and subsequently found and displayed on the boardwalk.

Lost and found
  

After a lovely long walk along the beach and some tumbling down the sandhills we headed back to Ade and Gill’s to warm up and have a cuppa. It took us a while for the chill to go but after we had warmed up we headed out again with my sister Alison and my nephew and niece Bobby and Lydia. We headed down to the National Trust Squirrel Walk. It cost £5.70 to park but otherwise entry was free. The reserve is renowned for its red squirrels. Despite it being still the hibernation period I was confident we would see some as there have been so many here. We weren’t disappointed as we did see one red squirrel but that was it.

  

The children loved running up and down the hills and dunes searching for red squirrels and exploring nature.

Zahra, Lydia and Bobby running in search of red squirrels
  
  
  

Here are some pictures from the nature reserve to demonstrate the difference between the UK and India. It is as cold as it looks!
  

  
  
  

Bobby, Lydia and Zahra den building
  

We headed into Southport for some shopping the next day – we had a list of things we simply couldn’t get in Bangalore. We also spent time having some fun in an amusement arcade – winning points to exchange for prizes. Zahra also wanted an ice cream. All very British seaside fun. 

We stopped for lunch in a cafe in a shopping arcade in Southport. It was cosy, warm, welcoming and the food was fantastic and very British!

Zahra with her Aunty Alison
  
Its never too cold or wet for nutella ice cream!
  
zahra enjoyed the arcade games with her bag of pick n mix sweets