19 May 2016 - INDIA
I’m writing to you from the very rainy/stormy city of Chennai, sheltering in a lounge at the Leela Hotel and overlooking a wet and wind-swept beach.
But let's go back to where we left off…
After an interesting drive from Ranthambore to Jaipur I boarded my flight to Mumbai, to continue my research for our end of year cricket tour.
The “interesting drive” left me with the lasting memory of four ladies attempting to coerce a cow across a 4-lane motorway! I had witnessed an occasion like this many years ago, also on the road to Jaipur, and thought I would never see the like of it again, but these four ladies (bless them) managed to coax the cow to an island halfway across the road and there it seemed to decide that enough was enough. They tugged from the front and pushed from behind, they shouted, danced and waved their saris but to no avail. The cow would not move an inch further. It had won the battle! The traffic continued as normal; nobody stopped or offered to help or seemed perturbed in the slightest. It did amuse me (sorry) as it was a sight never seen during my 10 years around Shropshire farmland or on any farm road in South Africa!
After landing in Mumbai it was off to visit the new Wankede Stadium, rebuilt for the IPL. (In India it is pronounced Vankede.) It really is lovely, but the challenge I have is choosing the right hospitality for our tour because the suites here, as with many cricket stadia in India, are completely enclosed with full air conditioning, cutting off all sounds from outside the suite and leaving us reeling from the cold a/c. (Imagine watching the cricket on TV whilst sitting in a fridge.) Therefore you will be pleased to learn that I have secured a facility outside of the stadium for those of us wishing to enjoy hospitality near to the ground, with proper catering and a comfy environment.
Mumbai is a great city! The Taj hotel at the Gateway to India overlooks a small bay with many small crafts bobbing in the water; the Oberoi and Trident hotels lie on a stretch of Arabian Sea coastline called "The Queens necklace". This is because in the evening the street lights light up along the coastline, resembling a necklace, and the view from the Oberoi and Trident hotels overlook this wonderful sight.
My next flight took me to Kolkatta and another lovely city. Lots to explore! A visit to the infamous Black Hole of Calcutta is a must. The city also has a popular street library, which is about an acre in size and hosts over 3,000 (yes 3,000!) new and second hand book shops. You can lose yourself for a whole day by browsing through IT, cooking, science fiction, you name it! And if you fancy a cup of tea, juice, water or a cold beer, there is a tea room in the area. Wooden staircases lead to the first floor and ceiling fans whirl away above wooden floors and chairs. This is where the poets and writers of all those years ago used to spend time just ‘shooting the breeze’ with their peers.
If that's not enough there is also a cruise down the Ganges to take you away from the hustle and bustle of the city. Peter Cat is a restaurant in Kolkatta that brings back fond memories for me and one which I will be encouraging you to visit when you tour.
I can imagine that for those of you who have not yet visited India there may be a concern about the choice of food available. Well rest assured! Every hotel I have visited has a minimum of three restaurants, usually Mediterranean, Chinese (or Thai) and of course Indian. I enjoyed a mouth-wateringly good saffron and wild mushroom risotto in Kolkatta! On another occasion I had a Bengalese Tali – a vegetarian dish, and as a meat-eating South African I can tell you it was one of the tastiest meals I have ever had! I mention Kolkatta with regards to good food but Mumbai has plenty to offer as well; lots of great sea food eateries to choose from. So if you love good food please join us on our travels to India at the end of the year.
Sadly it was time to say goodbye to Kolkatta and head off to Hyderabad for one day and night. It is an interesting destination as there is The Old City, a walled city located on the banks of the Musi River and a new HITEC City (growing as we speak) on the outskirts of the old town: it is the Silicone Valley of India. A huge new Trident hotel, Facebook offices, Infosys, British Aerospace and Google are currently building their offices in HITEC City, so in a few years’ time watch this space…
I must also add that the approach to the airport is one of the prettiest I have seen anywhere in the world - beautifully landscaped as you drive towards arrivals or from departures and spotlessly clean and green all around. It really stands out.
I had the privilege of spending the night at the Taj Falaknuma Palace, and what an experience it was! It was owned for a long while by the Nizaam of Hyderabad and handed down over the years. It has just 60 rooms and is built on top of a hill overlooking the city. I understand that the 7th Nizaam never actually stayed there: he divorced and moved abroad, but as part of the settlement gave his ex wife the palace, which she in turn commissioned the Taj to manage as a hotel. (When I heard this I thought, God if my wife had had that option she would have accepted in a heartbeat.) It is a palace that must be seen to be believed. My writing could never do it justice.
The next morning I had to leave the beautiful Taj Falaknuma Palace and travel to Chennai. I arrived in the middle of an election, which was strange!!!! No traffic! (But only for one day.) Today it's bucketing down and it’s great to see much needed rain falling on the dry dry land.
So thanks for following the trip folks!
Until the next time
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Date: Thu, 19 May 2016