Time to say goodbye…

28 March 2015

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Since say farewell to my fellow tourists and volunteers on Thursday, I must confess to having lived in luxury since at The Coconut Creek hotel in the Bogmolor region of Goa. Here, I have indulged in pork chops, and massage, a bubble bath and even a pedicure!! I am human again, and ready to take on my next stop… South Africa!

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India really has been a fascinating place. I would definitely like to return here again soon, ideally with people who have never experienced this country, so I can have the opportunity to introduce someone to all the sites and flavours I’ve experienced this last month!

Here’s a brief piece of advice I can pass on following my experience.

1. Don’t ask questions. Just accept that you’ll never know exactly what’s going on, but you’ll always have a rough idea.

2. Every post office has a different rule. There’s a complete lack of consistency here! My favourite by far has to be the Goan post office that insisted my packages my be wrapped in white cloth, and sent me to his friend the tailor just a few doors down… In no way a coincidence, I’m sure. But it was an additional cost of R150 (about £1.50) and I must admit, they looked rather charming sewn perfectly into white cloth, so… Just go with it!

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3. If you are in Delhi, DO NOT UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCE SHOP IN A STORE CALLED THE DELHI HUT. They will go out of their way to rip you off. They charge R2500 minimum from a saari (you can get this easily for R300) and will even go as far as to misquote you, then stick another zero on the end when swiping your card. Con artists, the lot of them!

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DO NOT GO HERE!

4. Always ask questions, particularly to locals where possible. You’d be amazed what you can learn!

5. Use your head. Don’t be stupid.

Namaste, India!

See you soon!

xx

Mishmar’s Goan Fish Curry

While I’ve been here in the Majorda region of Goa, I’ve been spending an awful lot of time eating the food served at a beach hut called Mishmar’s. Absolutely everything I’ve tried has been delicious, but nothing more than their Goan Fish Curry.

…Finally, after days of asking, I’ve bullied the recipe out of them!

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Ingredients

(For one)

  • 50g of coconut flakes
  • One or two green chillis (or more! Or less… It’s to your taste)
  • A teaspoon of red chilli powder
  • A teaspoon and a bit of dried coriander
  • 400g of chopped tomatoes
  • One onion, chopped
  • Two teaspoon of crushed ginger
  • One cardamom
  • A good slab of King Fish (or whatever fish you prefer)

1. Pop the coconut, green chillis, red chilli powder, crushed coriander and chopped tomatoes in a blender, and blend into a paste.

2. In a sauce pan, brown the onion and ginger together with a little oil. Then add the cardamom and your prepared paste, and stir together on a high heat for 5 minutes, then reduce the heat.

3. In a large frying pan, gently cook your fish. Then increase the heat and through in your sauce from the sauce pan. Toss together for a few minutes.

4. Boom, you’ve done it.

Today, I taught a little girl to spell her name

Monday 23 March

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And she lit up like a star for it!

This really is a fascinating volunteer project. Our classroom consists only of a small little hut on the beach. There’s no electric, so no fan, no air conditioning which in 32c heat makes things VERY challenging!

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But I feel both my work and my presence are welcome here, and I do feel I’m helping these kids. I just wish I could stay here helping for longer! 4 days seems a bit rubbish!

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The classroom hut is surrounded by the homes of the families, which are very small and built from driftwood and dead tree branches.

After class, one family invited us to their home, where we had a conversation via a translator. What an incredible story they had! They both had relocated to Goa recently from slums elsewhere, to try and create a better income and better life for their children, by selling fish caught by the father. They said they still weren’t happy in their life, and who could blame them, but every day they will keeping thinking and thinking, thinking of new ways to improve their life. Their dream, they said, is that their son, who is now four, will be able to go to school when he turns six, and get a good job in the future.

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I really do hope for them.

On another note, today also had a celebration attached to it.

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Diana turned 22!

HAPPY BIRTHDAY DIANA!

I hope you’re muito muito feliz!

Welcome to Paradise.

Sunday 22nd March

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Goa is a wonderful place! The people are more friendly, it’s more diverse and extremely hot! We’ve had a welcome weekend to be as lazy as we like (no temples, no mountain climbs, nothing!!) so have been spending almost 24 hours a day on Majorda Beach eating at Mishmar’s. The food here is delicious, and I’ve been particularly impressed by all the variety of fish caught right here each morning!

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 Talk about fresh!

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So far I’ve indulged in a variety of delights

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The famous and coveted Goan Fish Curry is something I’ve been excited to try for a while, and it didn’t disappoint! I loved every mouthful!

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Now to work on charming the recipe out of them.

Tomorrow begins our volunteering. We’re all going separate ways on different projects this time, and I will be working in The Fisherman’s Village in Colva, teaching the children while the parents work. I’m a little nervous after my last experience of this in Jaipur, but let’s see how it goes!

Spicy Rhododendron Chutney

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After learning of an edible flower indigenous to the Himachal region of India that blooms only from January to March, I couldn’t resist taking a bag-load back to my Palampur hostel, and trying my luck at being shown a local spicy chutney recipe made from this flower. This suggestion was welcomed with great enthusiasm, all the team were very excited that their dinner would have the special chutney alongside it, and were keen to show me the ropes!

This is not something that can be bought in shops anywhere, not even hear. It is made in Himachal homes and no where else, so I feel incredibly lucky to have had the opportunity, not only to try it, but also to make it! Here’s how it’s done…

Ingredients

  • A good bunch of Rhododendron flowers
  • 4 cloves of raw garlic, peeled
  • 4 raw green chilllis
  • A pinch and a bit of fresh corriander
  • A teaspoon of chilli powder
  • Half a teaspoon of salt
  • One  lemon
  • A tablespoon of water

Go eat flowers.

1. Remove the petals from the flowers and place them to one side

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2. Place the coriander and chillis into a blender and blitz into a paste

3.. Add the garlic and chilli powder. Blitz.

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4.. Add the flowers, salt and water. Blitz.

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5.. Finally the juice of one lemon. Blitz.

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Mmmmm

 This was really delicious. I’ve never tasted anything even remotely like it, which is exciting as I can’t remember the last time a flavour felt this new to me, but also gutting as it was so tasty but replicating it will never be possible! I’ve thought and thought, and the closest thing I can put the flavour of these petals to is a combination of grapefruit and plumb, but richer and not as sharp. Combine that with a chilli kick and a garlicky cuddle, and you have a taste sensation! IF you are ever in the Himacha region of India over January/March, you must force the opportunity to try this spicy chutney! It’s zinglicious!

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With due thanks to Sunil in Palampur, for showing me how it’s done and making my taste buds so very very happy!

MOUNTAIN GODDESS!!!!!!!!!!

14 March 2015

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Today, I achieved something I don’t think I will ever stop being proud of.

I climbed the Bhagsu Nag Mountain to the Triund peak!

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2875m above sea level!

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It started off fairly reasonable, just a steep trek for the first few miles.

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Then the snow started to show itself…

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We had been warned in advance that we’d just happened to choose the one week in the year where the snow is at its most treacherous, reaching 3ft in depth (information that may have been useful upon booking). I’d dismissed this as playful exaggeration, but it quickly became apparent that we were in dangerous conditions. With no protective equipment of any kind, this was a thrill like no other, but also extremely challenging. Step wrong and you’re lucky, you’re up to your waist in snow. Step wrong and you’re unlucky… You suddenly and rapidly start to slide down, so you better start digging and grabbing quick!

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We were in no way equipped or prepared for this… Some became quite emotional. Others stopped halfway, unable to go on.

But when I finally reached the top, it was very clearly worth every step. I drank in that beautiful view with pride!

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And that beautiful hot chocolate with worthiness!

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After a few hours of wobbling our way back down, I’m now tucked up in bed in our temporary accommodation in Bhagsu of Mcleod Ganj, belly full of well-earned spicy chicken curry!

Something tells me I’ll sleep well tonight…

The Sleeper Train to Palampur

12 March 2015

After a good 24 hours of travelling Agra to Delhi, Delhi to Amb Andaura, and Amb Andaura to Palampur, we have finally arrived at our accommodation!

Last night, at 11:50, was not only my first experience of being on a train in India, but my first experience being on a sleeper train! I thought it was great fun! Each wall had two or three beds that could fold out of it for your rest. There wasn’t really anywhere to put your bags other than underneath the bottom seat, so I opted for top bunk and kept mine at my feet, while the movement of the train gently rocked me to sleep like a giant baby.

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Some enjoyed it more than others.

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I woke up about 8:00 to the crisp smell of clean mountain air, and stuck my head out the door (which was broken and wouldn’t close) to greet the region of Himachal Pradesh!

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Once we arrived at the train station, we boarded our bus to make the 4 hour journey to Palampur. This would’ve been a great time to get a little more sleep, but I could as these incredible mountain views were getting more and more impressive with each mile!

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Now in my accommodation, I can also tell you that these views also exist from my own bedroom window, however these guys are stealing the show…

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Very cute.

What a place…

 

The Taj Mahal

11 March 2015

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Yesterday, we visited the extraordinary Taj Mahal in Agra, which overlooks the River Ganjes is quite honestly even more beautiful in person than I could have imagined! Built by the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan as a loving gesture for his wife who sadly died when giving birth before construction was completed, it now houses their tomb.

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To consider this was all done by hand is really hard to get your head around! It’s absolutely flawless, with perfect symmetry everywhere you look!

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Had to be done.

 We’re now heading back up to Delhi where we’ll be catching the overnight train 9 hours all the way up to Palampur, and have stopped for lunch on the way where I found this

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Uttapam!

Just like my sister and I had together in the Thali Dahl in Bristol just before I left!

It was delicious! I just wish she had been here to enjoy it with me.

I also managed to find somewhere to stop and get some post out!

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Keep an eye on your doormat!

Delhi Belly has arrived…

10 March 2015

 And it sneaked its way in through the form of a beautiful Tandoori chicken!

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Bought from some restaurant in Jaipur where we stopped for lunch after the Amber Fort yesterday.

It’s all the horrible you’d expect it to be! And has arrived just in time for today’s long drive to Agra! Uggh!!!!

Thank goodness I got some fairly effective tablets from the Doctor before leaving England.

Definitely DEFINITELY make sure you do the same before coming to India!

It’s Pringles and water for me these next 24 hours…

Monkey’s and Munchies

09 March 2015

What a very educational day and interesting weekend it has been!

Today, we visited the Amber Fort in Jaipur, where there once lived a King with 12 wives… But this didn’t stop him indulging in a good pamper wherever possible!

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These pictures show a steam room, which operated by servants boiling water in the next room and steam entering through little holes and a Jacuzzi, which was filled with hot water which bubbled somehow through some law of physics that I’ve totally forgotten now. The entire place was also air-conditioned, by having water run behind the marble walls and cool air pushing through little holes as a result.

He also had quite the wok!

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That must have been some dinner party!

The high-light of this visit for me was a nifty instrument I bought from a street seller…

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A Ravanhatta!

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With a coconut base and a bamboo neck, I thought this was an impressive piece of craftsmanship! While I haven’t quite sussed how to play it yet… I’m sure, with time, I’ll become an expert!

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Saturday was an awesome day. We visited the Krishna temple, took in the breath-taking views of the Nahargarh fort, and an absolute high-light for me… The Monkey Temple!

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On the drive, we also saw the Water Palace, which was first brought to my attention by a particularly tasty episode of Reza: Spice Prince of India, leaving me to associate this view with tasty curry and therefore build up a sharp appetite.

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Then came an evening of delicious delights.

An event was being held called Chowkhi Dhani- a rainbow of Indian flavours for just 500 Rupees!

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Despite this giant menu greeting us at the entrance, I still have no idea really what I ate, or at least which was which. But I can tell you my favourite was Yellow!

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Oh, Yellow!

Places were paid on entry, then seated on a first come first serve basis. And thank goodness we got in on the first sitting, because the queue built up quickly! The team behind it gave great service, were very attentive, and kept our plates loaded with various Thali flavours!

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I hope to find a recipe for Yellow soon enough.

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After dinner, the event also had a variety of dance performances, fun-fair style games to play, shops with lovely bits and bobs (really regret not getting a set of teacups now) and an Artisan Village to explore, which included jungles, caves, slides and houses, offering a sample of the many colours and diversities in style that fill India.

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I can’t believe we’ve been here only two weeks and seen so much already! India is extraordinary!