In Search of Tiger

Our friends Alex and Michelle came to visit us in India. They didn’t really want to see us, they just wanted to see tiger. The best place for tiger in India is Ranthambhore Tiger Reserve. Perhaps having tiger in the title might help our chances.

Michelle, Helen and Alex

Michelle, Helen and Alex excited to see tiger

It’s a big place Ranthamhore, lots of space for lots of tigers (also lots of places for them to hide).

Ranthambhore view

Tiger hiding places

We roamed around in a big jeep hoping to see tiger. Things looked encouraging when we saw tiger food.

Tiger food

Tiger morsel

Some tiger food sought sanctuary in a pond:

Clever tiger food

Clever tiger food

We managed to fit in a bit of twitching while we were there. Here’s one untidy bird:

Untidy

Untidy

and a couple of tidy ones:

Tidy birds

Tidy birds

With zero tigers, things started getting boring.

Time to doze

Yawns-ville

Ah hold-on, a meat eater at last!

Substitute tiger

Substitute tiger

Sod this bombing around in a jeep, some good honest tracking like my ancesters is needed

Tiger track

Paw

That’s more like it!

Tiger's arse

Tiger1

Tiger's arse 2

Tiger2

There you have it. All that effort to fly from England to see a tiger’s arse.

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Dean Colegate: Pushkar Tug-O-War Champion 2010

Pushkar has a camel fair but it’s most famous for its Tug-O-War competition. I won the Pushkar Tug-O-War competition which makes me both strong and great. Here is a picture of me winning the trophy to prove it. There were ten other guys in my team but I was the best.

Champion

Champion

Champion by lake

Champion by lake

Champion on wall (trophy arrowed)

Champion with some beardy bloke

A local music festival in honour of my heroics

Helen sharing the limelight

Nevermind the background, focus on the trophy

Nevermind the background, focus on the trophy.

These people may look like they're asleep on a floor in a railway station but just before they were all crowding around me and clamouring for an autograph.

On the way home in my sleeper train bunk. It's tiring being a champion.

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Devon knows how they make it so English

Coast path, Devon

Our first trip home: We flew out of Delhi bound for London on 12th September, exactly 3 months to the day since I made the trip in reverse – spooky!

We had cunningly booked a sixteen day trip with 3 weekends to make the most of our time in the UK. We had a lot to pack in … Twickenham (Kenny & Kat’s) … Brighton to see M&D Brown and say farewell to R&C and the Brown children … south coast chums for Sunday lunch … a week of work for Dean … lunch with Mich … Brighton again … lunch in Merton and again in Wimbledon … Melksham to see Mr & Mrs C (Snr) and the Colegate Clan … a trip to Devon … back to Twickenham … pack up the flat … dinner in Brixton … dinner in Richmond … back to Delhi … phew!

Our first stop was Twickenham for dinner and to stay at Kenny and Kat’s. For some reason Dean decided to be sensible and go to bed but I stayed up ’til 1am even though I’d just done an 8 hour flight! At least I wasn’t drinking Kat’s infamous vodka.

Another cunning part of the plan was that we managed to see Rich, Claire, Ella, Maddie & Aly before they went off to New Zealand. We had a very lovely family day like so many we’ve had before. I can’t think of a better way to say goodbye.

We picked up our lovely car from Brighton and drove back to London via Sunday lunch with the Owens and Woods. Dean and Gethin Wood tied at ten pin bowling and Dean managed to pick up food poisoning: Three months in Delhi with no Delhi Belly and then ‘boom’, three days off work – poor guy.

On the way to Devon we popped into the Colegate’s. We met up with the rest of the clan for dinner, including Sharon and Simon which was an unexpected bonus. Uncle Dean was still feeling a bit poorly but a hug from Ruby helped.

Dartmouth from the Castle Ferry

Dean and I really needed a holiday because it’s not all drinking G&T ya’ know. We’d been looking forward to our Devon break and it was great. Although I had begun to adjust well to life in India Devon was a perfect respite from all the Indianness … we stayed in a charming guest house a stones throw from the sea, had autumn sunshine the whole time, ate fish and chips by the harbour and walked the coastal path.

Back to Twickenham for the serious business of packing up the flat as exchange and completion were imminent. There’s always more than you think isn’t there? Oh dear, we had to rely on the ever stirling support of M&D Brown to finish it off for us but I’m happy to report that the Twickenham Flat is now sold – yippee!

Dinner in Brixton

As we were so busy packing up the flat you might assume that we wouldn’t have time to go gallivanting but no .. we managed to fit in dinner in Brixton and Richmond before we left and saw some more lovely people. We didn’t see absolutely everyone we wanted to but we did really well. We’re not due back again until spring 2011 but we have lots of good memories to keep us going. And of course there’s always the G&T!

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The British High Commission Summer Ball 2010

I just had to write it out in full. Oh whoops, I forgot to mention the Imperial Hotel – The British High Commission Ball at the Imperial Hotel – that’s better! How posh does that sound?

At the end of August / beginning of September the Delhi/Gurgaon social scene begins to pick up again after a pretty dull summer. It’s dull because it’s too hot to do anything; so no one  does, in fact lots of people just leave. Around this time you get events like the Delhi Network Welcome Back Lunch: “Welcome Back”, what are they talking about, I asked myself, I’ve only just got here.

It’s also time for the Gurgaon Connections Cocktail Party (which was great) and the Summer Ball, both of which are opportunities to wear a party frock and drink too much G&T, which is what I had assumed expat life was all about! Of course that is what expats do but it’s also what I might have done in my previous life (I hope it doesn’t surprise anyone that I like dressing up and drinking G&T). I found that arranging a group of friends to go with, finding a good hairdresser, bumping into people I know and having a good time were all very settling: It was around this time that I began to feel at home.

Here are the pictures of the ball …

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A Spectator reader called Wigram

I’ve never met a Wigram before, infact I didn’t even know Wigram was a name. It sounds like the sort of name for a character in a black and white Battle of Britain movie …

“Glad you made it Roger, I heard Jerry gave us a right thrashing today”

“You’re right, Dickie. Rupert and Blowers copped it on the airfield and on the way back to Blighty some 109’s did for Wigram”

“Oh no, not Wiggy! Poor, poor Wiggy.”

The Wigram we’ve just met isn’t a Spitfire pilot, he’s a retired antiques dealer from West Kensington and he’s jolly nice. He and his wife Annie have been touring India for the last couple of months and before flying back to the UK they were spending a few days relaxing at Tikli Bottom. This is where our paths crossed.

Tikli Bottom is guest house in the countryside about 45 minutes from where we live. It’s built in a colonial style and has high ceilings, a courtyard, lawns, swimming pool, organic small holding and even a school. It’s run by Martin and Annie Howard who are both delightfully posh and also down to earth. Martin is ex Navy and diplomatic service. They only advertise in The Spectator in the hope of attracting a certain class of visitor. Tikli Bottom is a little piece of Englishness where you wouldn’t expect it.

There’s only four rooms so you can’t help but to get to know the other guests especially as everyone, including Martin and Annie, eat together. The food style was very non-Indian (aubergine pate, buffalo stew, ham salad) with much of the ingredients coming from their organic farm which is next door. Over these lovely meals we chatted with some fascinating people: Erik a Dutch professor and his wife Caroline (at least 25 years his junior!); Nicolas and Brigitte a retired Naval officer couple; Barton and Jennifer (MIT & Harvard scholars).

I know what you’re thinking: me and, to a lesser extent, Helen were out of our league especially as neither of us read The Spectator. Well you might be right but at the end of our stay, our new mate Wiggy wanted to exchange contact details and Martin tried to give me a funny hand shake. I think we managed to blag it ok.

Here are some pictures…

Tickli Bottom back yard

Tickli Bottom courtyard

At dinner

On the farm with Boris the buffalo

Helen and Wiggy

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Don’t let your missus book tickets to the Commonwealth Games…

…or any other international multisport event.

Ok, this blog title might be a bit harsh. Had Helen not booked the tickets and left it up to me we would have ended up seeing zero events at the CWG. As it happens we saw plenty of action at the games so thank you Helen. BUT when we arrived at the swimming arena I was hoping to see Rebecca Adlington winning a gold medal and make me proud to be English. When we sat down, Helen sheepishly said “Did I tell you that this morning’s event is the synchronised swimming?”. Well reader, let me tell you, as I’m sure you’ve guessed, no Helen had NOT told me we’d be watching a so-called sport where half the marks awarded are for artistic merit! That isn’t even the worst bit: the opening competition was the SOLO synchronised swimming. The ‘swimmers’ don’t even have to bloody well to synchronise with anyone!!!! I felt both cheated and robbed.

I soon got over it, the girl swimming for New Zealand had a great set of pins. Instantly the world didn’t seem such a bad place afterall.

If you’re interested, here are the pictures we took of our day…

Helen outside our new local Metro station with CWG tickets in hand

D&H on the Metro

After the train we catch an auto-rickshaw to the stadium

Helen at the swimming arena. I'm not sure if I was talking to her at this point in time.

Me at the athletics stadium. I made a faux pas here when the Indian hammer thrower launched her hammer straight into the side netting. The locals didn

Fancy roof of the Nehru Stadium

Long day ends with the final bit of our trip home in a cycle rickshaw. No wonder the guy was sweating with both of us in the back.

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Adventures in Rajasthan – Mount Abu

Dean and I had our first Indian adventure at the end of August; a trip by sleeper train to Mount Abu in western Rajasthan.

One of our overall aims is to make the most of our Indian experience by travelling around India and neighbouring countries as much as possible. We want to do a series of weekend excursions to places that we can get to easily from Gurgaon.  Booking these excursions is my job. The places I have in mind we could get to by car but I am keen to get away from our expat life, which includes having a driver, and regaining some of the independence that I take for granted in the UK. There is no way either Dean or I could drive to these places ourselves – we’d definitely die!

Dean and I arrived in India in June, which is just about the hottest part of the year. It was a complete shock. I didn’t understand how debilitating heat can be until I lived here. Before I arrived I thought air-conditioning was for shallow whimps who had no consideration for the environment – one summer in India and I don’t ever want to be far away from it. I found out that traditionally in India the well-off get out of the cities and get up a mountain to get away from the heat. There are a range of hill stations to the North East of Delhi designed at Summer retreats mainly by the British. So my cunning plan was a weekend trip to a hill station by train, how hard could that be?!

Well buying an indian train ticket is an art in itself, one better documented elsewhere, and that I finally mastered. You need to think about 2 months in advance if you want a confirmed reservation, for two people, travelling in some degree of comfort, in the same carriage; so June was out. July brings the monsoon and most of the guide books (besides telling me to get out of Delhi because it is so hot) were telling me not to go to the hill stations because they are too wet. Flipping great!

Finally I found Mt Abu: a hill station suitable for visitors all year round that we could get to by train albeit with a 12-14 hour journey. I filled in my two forms (one each way) and took it to the post office and we had our tickets. I booked our hotel and figured that we could plan the rest when we got there. Six weeks later we were ready for our first adventure.

We arrived at Gurgaon Station at night as we were catching a sleeper. Many Indian trains are set up for sleeping because it’s such a big country, journeys are long and it makes sense to spend the time asleep. Gurgaon Station is a bit of a hole. It’s located in the old (read rough) part of town. However amongst the stray dogs and rough sleepers we had finally found Indian prices. Dean was delighted to only pay Rs30 (about 40p) for a 1lt bottle of water and a packet of crisps; Gurgaon is usually a very expensive city.

I got the hebejebies sitting at the station: I suddenly doubted that wearing my wedding ring was such a good idea and had visions of Dean finding me with my throat cut in the morning. My nerves were unfounded; travelling in a 2nd class air-conditioned coach felt very safe, our fellow travellers were friendly and we generally enjoyed it. I didn’t sleep that well on the way there but I had a better night’s sleep on the way back. The toilets both ways were dreadful.

We stayed at Kishangarh House, the former summer residence of a Maharaja, now a hotel. It was OK but the accommodation and service were shoddy, which was a shame particularly as the house and gardens are stunning. It is set on the side of the mountain with beautifully tended terraced gardens.

Overall we were underwhelmed by the whole experience. The food ranged from very average to good but standards of hygiene were very, very suspect. You can’t buy alcohol in Rajasthan after 8pm so there were no bars, there was nowhere really to hang out and just drink coffee either. Mt Abu is famous for its temples but we thought that they were all a bit concrete looking. It’s also a good place for trekking but not in the rain. And boy, oh boy did it rain. It was the first weekend of the really heavy rain; it bucketed. Of course this coloured our perceptions and it is likely that if we’d gone at a different time of year we would have enjoyed it more. I would like to correct the guide books on this point – Mt Abu is NOT a good place to visit in the Monsoon – a rainy weekend is a rainy weekend wherever you are!

In spite of being underwhelmed and getting food poisoning the day we got back, I’m glad we went and I’ve learnt some lessons. Next year excursions within India are off during the Monsoon. I’m more confident about the trains: I’ve signed up for an on-line account which makes purchasing and returning tickets much easier, I am also working out which are the best seats. Not too surprisingly in a country of extremes there is a big difference between 5 star accommodation and everything else.  While I remain committed to the principle of seeing the ‘real India’, I will be careful of doing it at the expense of my health – e-coli is no fun!

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