Archive for June, 2008

Wild life

June 28, 2008

Thought you’d like the picture of the preying mantis that joined us for dinner recently. We guess it was safer inside than out, as the frogs in the paddy field were kicking up a racket, no doubt enjoying a steady supply of insects. On the same night we were treated to a display of fireflies and a visit from a beetle with 5cm antennae, assorted moths and, not so much fun, a cockroach.

At home bats have moved into our loft, geckos have been busy producing young, one of which we trod on unfortunately, ants have set up home only to have been obliterated for the time being with a blast of Pest Seal. A single wasp is nest building in the bath room next to the wash basin. We destroyed her first effort but she returned and started building in the same place. So now we have taken a sympathetic view and are allowing construction to continue even though planning permission wasn’t sought or granted; it’s the Goan way. We guess that the maximum size will be smaller than a golf ball… perhaps we’ll be in for a surprise on our return in three weeks.


RTO… again

June 26, 2008

From your confused, disillusioned and ****** off motoring correspondent, who thought he’d got the measure of the dreaded RTO.
The Road Traffic Office has excelled itself in the frustration stakes. I am a slow learner and passing the paperwork test is obviously not a strength of mine. Having passed the driving test I asked the examining officer ‘What do I do next?’. He looked a bit perplexed and said, or I thought he said, that the license would be ready in five days, collect from the RTO. So five days later I went to the RTO. Mr. Enquiry Desk pointed me to one officer, who pointed me to another, who pointed me to the man in charge of the whole mess. He was quite clear; I need to go back to Mr Enquiry, complete form 8, hand it to the first officer (see above), get his clearance, pay a fee at another desk, rejoin the queue for the first officer and then wait for seven days while they print the license.

It was now 12.54 so I had 6 minutes to get the paperwork in before the office closed for the day. I purchased Form 8. Nothing to fill in on Page 1, but Page 2 required a health form, the third in this process. Mr Enquiry hadn’t told me that this form was a requirement of Form 8. So I returned to Mr Enquiry to purchase this form… but no. It was 12.56 by the office clock, but Mr Enquiry was picking up his pile of forms and refused to sell it to me. ‘Closed. Come back tomorrow!’

So I’ll back to the RTO tomorrow and the day after and the day after etc.

There is of course a simple way round this palaver. Find an agent and pay him a lot of rupees (this amount will cover any bribe required). I do recommend everyone who has the money and not the time to take this course of action. It will save your sanity. You still have to sign the forms but he does the queueing and knows which desk to head for at the right time. On second thoughts, don’t bother. Just pay the fines when you are stopped, it’s less time consuming and stressful.

It’s three days on since I wrote the above. It’s also three visits on… I still do not have and don’t know if I will get the license. My patience was nearly exhausted today, when I had to queue three times, when I was sent away for ‘one more thing’, the last being ‘seal your existing driving license in an envelope’ Of course that meant a trip to the stationers. By the time I got back the officer I was dealing with had gone and the replacement officer started to rip the envelope apart to check the license. I nearly hit him……

Sorry if you’ve waded through all the above and not had a laugh, but I needed to get it off my chest.


June 18, 2008

From your motoring correspondent’s assistant (aka Hari the Enfield).

Finally, at long last, at the appropriate juncture, in the fullness of time, Martin has passed his ‘motorcycle with gear’ driving test.

He’s done so many figures of eight he’s worn a tracks in his chosen practice spots. The final triumph came courtesy of four stones – markers to show him what to aim for – however it wasn’t without it’s false starts. Margao’s Road Traffic Office changed the venue on him, then couldn’t give him a better explaination of where the new venue was than ‘somewhere near the swimming pool’. Which swimming pool, we wondered? Until Alison remembered a tale from one of her clients about someone turning up to do a driving test without a scooter, at which point the police just flagged someone down who was riding past on his way to work. Scooter duly ‘borrowed’, the client passed. The venue for this excitement was the public swimming pool at the sports stadium. So off Martin and Hari journeyed on Monday. They were back an hour later. They hadn’t passed. They hadn’t failed either. Government employeed in India went on strike on Monday so there were no tests!

Come Tuesday, try again. And lo, success. Of course now he’s passed, we have to actually get the license. Martin will be the ‘European in Residence’ at the RTO in Margao from next Monday.

Danger! Jack Fruit and Coconuts

June 13, 2008

Jack Fruit

Health Warning. Fruit and nuts are bad for your health. Jack Fruits grow to the size of two rugby balls from the trunk and largest branches. Initially we didn’t like the taste, too sticky and a little slimy, but the taste grows on you. The seeds are about the size of brazil nuts and are delicious roasted.

As with coconuts, the jackfruit is a potential killer. The fruits can weigh more than 5 kilos. Like coconuts they fall when ripe and it’s best not to be in the way. In Goa, they reckon that if a coconut falls on your head, it marks you out a a sinner. We reckon these trees should have warning signs.

What’s in a name?

June 13, 2008

This from our friend Shiva. We’re known Shiva since we first came to Goa. He’s well versed in a number of languages and he memorises UK post codes to entertain tourists with. He’s also leads bird watching trips, sells postcards and stamps, hires bicycles, does babysitting, and teaches Indian cooking.

Anyway, here’s Shiva’s list of what the name Bale means in Kannada (the language of neighbouring Karnatika):

well done
young girl child
dish of puffed rice.

Apparently it’s all in the stress and intonation!

Bale is pronounced Barlay, or at least that’s the closest we can get.

Offstation 3: Stone cottages near Shimla

June 13, 2008

Agro Stone Cottage Moshubra
The YMCA couldn’t accommodate us for our third night in Shimla and by chance we found a new and we think special venue.

In almost any major tourist destination in India, you’ll find people touting accommodation. It’s usually best avoided but we took a chance on one that seemed different. It paid dividends. We stayed at some stone cottages about 10km from Shimla. They’re new, well furnished, and in a peaceful setting. It was great to be away from the relentless horn blowing and shouting, to enjoy bird song.

The cottages are surrounded by an orchard and vegetable gardens. There are activities available there – high altitude trekking, horse riding and golf – but we just used our time to put our feet up.

The people running the cottages are genuinely trying to do something different and we applaud them and wish them all the best. To see their web site, go to

The peace and quite enjoyed at the stone cottages was well shattered by our journey back to Delhi. We took the bus. The only deluxe buses were running at night, so we made the journey during the day on an ordinary state bus. This isn’t always a bad move. Some of the private buses are driven by nutcases and any comfort from the seats is dissolved by the hair-raising driving. We had a reasonably comfortable bus and a sensible driver (none of the three almost head on collisions on the way out of the mountains were his fault) but the Grand Trunk Road, the route from Chandigargh to Delhi, is a struggle. It’s polluted, foul smelling, dusty and generally unpleasant. Alison’s eyes are only just beginning to veer away from the bloodshot look they sported at the end of a nine hour bus journey.

The final leg back to Goa was a bit simpler; couldn’t get on a train – so flew.

Offstation 2: Exploding water systems and monkeys on the stairs

June 4, 2008

Viceregal Lodge- Shimla
Our first night at the YMCA passed off peacefully enough, or so we thought, as we enjoyed the novelty of blankets. When we came back from dinner, there was no hot water on our floor, so we trecked up a floor for showers. At around 3am, the hot water geyser on our floor exploded. We slept through it despite it being next door.

However we didn’t sleep through the thundering on the stairs outside our door the next morning. We looked out to see two monkeys hurtling downstairs towards us. One continued on down, the other dashed past us into the bathroom and out through broken window.

Shimla itself is a bit of a disappointment. The British moved the government of the whole sub-continent (governing 1/5 the world’s population) to Shimla to escape the unbearable heat of Delhi. In fact they spent more of the year here than in the capital. Photos from the first half of last century show it to have been a spacious and airy place, redolent of England. That’s nearly all disappeared under concrete as the population in this area grows.

It’s now the capital of Himachal Pradesh and it sprawls over seven hills; to us they are more like mountains, bu seeing as the Himalaya range is not far distant they are foothills. Everywhere you look there are concrete blocks of flats. The central Mall still retains some incongruous colonial architecture and this, coupled with groups of children trooping past in what look suspiciously like British school uniforms, do make it feel odd. The Viceregal Lodge is the main tourist site – we think they call the style Colonial-Gothic! It felt very bizarre sitting viewing flower beds very similar to those we grew in Marlow, all poppies, lupins, roses and the usual annuals.

Our journey back to the YMCA was delayed because Pratiba Patil, the President of India, had chosen the same day to hold a public meeting in Shimla. All was vaguely organised anarchy with many paths blocked in the name of security. We secured an invitation to the reception but decided not to go – you can have too much of the cultural entertainment.

Offstation 1: On the rails to Shimla

June 3, 2008

Stationmaster Shimla Railway
We’re now safely returned from our one week break and it’s time to tell you what we’ve been up to. We’ll skate over day one (a thunder storm and six hours in the environs of the Home Department in Delhi – gory details available on request) and move swiftly to day two.

Having jettisoned most of our plans for the week because it was too hot for the temples Kajuraho or Keoladeo, we decided to do as the British have always done at this time of year in India and go to Shimla. We set off by train – Himalayan Queen to Kalka. Things got a bit fraught because we were an hour late at the penultimate station and 20 minutes late by the time we reached Kalka. Fortunately the powers that be had held up the connecting train to Shimla just for us (and all the other people making the connection).

The railway to Shimla is a ‘toy train’ – a narrow gauge track – covering 96km and involving 24 bridges, 18 stations and 103 tunnels. The journey is a bit interminable – more than 5 hours when the bus does the same journey in under three – but the scenery and the sense of tradition make up for it.

May/June is peak time in Shimla and we were fortunate to meet an American on the train who is a regular visitor to Shimla. He steered us towards the YMCA – not somewhere we would normally have considered to stay but good value and not without its excitements (see the next blog).

One downside of the YMCA – its position is at the top of a steep flight of steps. Although Shimla is only just over 2000m, and therefore not high enough to involve formal altitude acclimatisation, we still noticed the increased effort required for the climb.

Cooler Weather

June 3, 2008

We arrived back from Delhi a couple of days ago very refreshed despite the distance travelled; more on that later.

It is cooler and monsoon is approaching. We’ve already had a couple of dramatic thunderstorms, which have taken the heat of things and laid some dust and washed away some grime. Margao town seems busier than usual and we suspect that is because people are preparing for the monsoon, much protective material is in evidence, ie plastic sheeting.

Hari Enfield is giving problems but suspect it is just an ageing coil; shouldn’t be too difficult to fix.