India/Dubai - January/February 2008


This is the diary of a 26-day trip to India which started on 28 January 2008 and ended on 21 February 2008.  The tour was centred around a visit to the Rotary Club of Madras, with a trip to north India at the beginning, a 4-night trip to Kerala and a three-night visit to Dubai at the end.

In India the rate of exchange was £1 = 77 Rupees (Rs). In Dubai the rate of exchange was £1 = 7.2 Dirhams (Dhs).

Click here for interactive maps.

So now read on...

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Briefly, here's how we spent each day:

28/01London to Dubai
29/01From Dubai to New Delhi
30/01Delhi to Agra
31/01Agra to Jaipur
02/02Jaipur to Delhi
03/02Delhi to Chennai
04/02Sulerikattukuppam and Mamallapuram
05/02Kanathan, Rotary Club, Boys and Girls Homes
06/02Madharpakkam and Boys Home at Gummidipoondi
07/02Chennai shopping and a Beach Buffet
08/02Tour of Chennai
09/02Train from Chennai to Madurai
10/02Tour of Madurai
11/02Madurai to Thekkadi and a boat trip on Lake Periyar
12/02Thekkadi to Kumarakom via Spice and Tea Plantations
13/02A day to recharge the batteries
14/02Boat trip to Alleppy and coach to Cochin
15/02Tour of Cochin and a Katakhali Dance
16/02Flight to Chennai and a Marriage Blessing
17/02Lunch at a Palace and a Wedding Reception
18/02Chennai to Dubai
19/02Ski Slope and Desert Safari
20/02Gold Souk and Dubai Creek
21/02Journey's End

Previous DaySummaryNext day Mon, 28 Jan - London to Dubai

Our holiday started a few days earlier than the flight to India. We were staying at the Swansons on the Saturday night with the Whitelocks and Mary said we should stay Sunday night too and they would drive us to the airport on Monday. So this is what we did. Mary drove us to the airport on Monday at 12:30pm. While checking in we were asked if we would like to get the 2pm flight instead of the 4:35pm one. There had been fog problems at the airport. Thinking it would be better to spend 4 hrs in Dubai instead of 2 hrs in LHR and 2hrs in Dubai, we agreed. Unfortunately there were problems with the entertainment system on several seats including ours so we could not listen or watch anything on our 6.5 hr flight, They gave us a box of Godiva chocolates and a bottle of 1993 Margaux which we have to drink before 5th February when Graham gives up alcohol for Lent.

Previous DaySummaryNext day Tue, 29 Jan - From Dubai to New Delhi

On arriving at Dubai airport Jane realised she had not packed the power supply for her laptop so we had to buy one in the duty free. The business class lounge was reasonably comfortable but not good enough for sleeping and we were there for 4 hours. Once on the plane from Dubai to Delhi Jane was so tired and didn't feel well, but she slept the whole of the journey - about 3 hrs - missing breakfast but that's not a problem. Vinod (our driver) and Pavi (the tour operator's rep) met us at the airport and took us to the Connaught Palace hotel where we had a quick and small lunch before meeting up with Litu, our guide for the day. We were driven around Delhi stopping at various points for sightseeing. Jane slept most of the time in the car between stops. In India they drive normally on the left side. We are not sure if they have any 'No Overtaking' signs on the roads. We first stopped at a magnificent mosque built of sandstone called the Birla Mandir temple. Photographs were not allowed. We took our shoes off and Jane had no socks on and her feet were freezing on the stone floors. Litu showed us the various gods for the days of the week amongst other things. Next section took us passed the India Gate which commemorates 90,000 Indian Soldiers who died in WW1. Then we drove down the Rajpath to the government buildings passing the left over temporary stands erected for yesterday's Republic day parade. Because of this views of the parliamentary buildings were restricted and we continued off to the Qutab Minar which contains a collection of very old buildings dating back to 1200 including a very large 5 storey tower and several acres of other old buildings. Next stop was in Old Delhi at the largest Mosque Jama Masjid built between 1644 and 1658. It can hold a mind blowing 35,000 people for Prayer which it does at least once a year. This area was old, a bit dirty and incredibly crowded. We had a good view of the Delhi Red Fort from the top of the Mosque steps. Once we got through the traffic and out to the Red Fort , we drove around it and stopped for some photographs. We could not go in as it was closed due to the celebrations for Mahatma Gandhi's 60 years since his assassination. Last stop was at a shop called India Cottage Industries, where we bought a carpet, but not the one in the photograph. Ours is a small rug. When we got back to the hotel we had an hour's rest. Dinner was taken at 7pm in the Hotel. Weather not freezing but not hot either, trousers and jumpers needed.

Previous DaySummaryNext day Wed, 30 Jan - Delhi to Agra

We had a 6am alarm call, but we had both slept for about 8 hours so it was OK. After a quick breakfast and checkout we met Vinod at 7am. It was rather cold and Jane wore her warmest clothes, top, jumper and fleece!. The drive to Agra was 5 hours however we stopped at a few places on the way. It was very interesting driving through country villages, seeing black tuc tucs since the ones in Delhi are green and yellow. Those that are powered by LPG are green and yellow whilst those that use diesel or petrol are black and yellow and those that are battery powered are green and white. They are very proud of their greenness in transport especially gas powered buses. However we did notice this one unsightly chimney. The camel train was very interesting and it was fun to see camels being used on several occasions for carrying or pulling heavy loads. We stopped at Akbar the Great's tomb at Sikandara. Several eagle kites were flying around, they are known as Pariah Kites. During the journey we saw the milk delivery round and the cooking gas delivery round being made on bicycles. The roadside was very dusty and cows wandered about. Passing a mosque with 2 statues outside one of which is to the Monkey faced god , Jane noticed an area behind her where they were drying cow pats for selling. We arrived in Agra just after noon and were driven to the Mansingh Palace hotel where we were met by our guide, Naim. At this point the sky is blue and it's much warmer than in Delhi. He booked us into the hotel, which is more comfortable than the one in Delhi. We were driven to a restaurant where we each had a very tasty vegetarian meal served on a tray with compartments for each of the different vegetable curries. After lunch we were driven to the Taj Mahal car park where we got into a green and white battery driven tuc-tuc and taken to the East Gate of the Taj Mahal. The marble building stands in large grounds surrounded by a sandstone wall. We entered the grounds through a security gate and were frisked by a guard. We were accosted by photographers but we had our own. On the approach to the Taj Mahal, Naim took many pictures of us as he knew where all the good Kodak spots were. Naim told us we were twice lucky. The fountains were playing and the sky was blue. We had to cover our shoes with paper bags before walking around the Taj Mahal. It is made from hard white marble inlaid with jewels which sparkle in the sunshine. Large blocks of marble are carved with intricate designs. It took 22,000 men 22 years to construct. Inside the walls are inlaid with precious jewels like lapis lazuli. It is awe-inspiring. The builder is buried inside along with his wife because he was unable to complete the building of a black version of the Taj Mahal on the other side of the Yumana River before he died. We wandered back out of the grounds and took a Tuc Tuc to the car park. We were driven to the Agra Fort aka Red Fort (every important city has a Red Fort) and walked around it. It is a massive red sandstone building occupied mainly by the military but a third is open to the public. From the Agra Fort we could see the Taj Mahal. Part of the building was used for imprisoning the father of the builder of the Taj Mahal. After the Agra Fort we were driven via a shop which produces inlaid marble goods. Back to the hotel where we rested, had a meal and retired to bed. In India they eat late in the evenings so we had to wait till 7:30pm for the restaurants to open.

Previous DaySummaryNext day Thu, 31 Jan - Agra to Jaipur

Another sunny day and warm even so early. We left the hotel at 9:40am and were driven through very narrow and crowded streets , filled mainly with pedestrians, cyclists, motorbikes and Tuc-Tucs on our way to Jaipur. We stopped, 40km from Agra, at the walled city of Fatehpur Sikri where we were met by our guide for the city. Wahid took us via a Tuc-Tuc to the huge palace built by Akbar the Great. The palace covers an area of 1.5 square km and is built of sandstone. Inside he built buildings for his three wives, a Muslim, a Hindu and a Christian. His wives bore him no children but he had a lot of pleasure with his 400 concubines. The buildings took twenty years to build but were abandoned after 15 years due to the scarcity of drinkable water. The services of a hydrologist would have been useful. After strolling round the palace we visited the religious part which is a huge mosque. We took off our shoes and walked around it stepping carefully around the bird droppings. We bought some small marble souvenirs from the shop owned by Wahid's father who had made the pilgrimage to Mecca and so was entitled to wear a skullcap. Back in the car we were driven to Jaipur. On the way we had lunch at 3pm in a tourist restaurant. They are building a dual carriage way between Agra and Jaipur and in places it is complete but not officially open so you can opt to stay in the same lane and face all the oncoming traffic or get onto the new stretch and face less oncoming traffic. Nobody drives quickly and everyone has a high degree of tolerance. They need to have it. We are amazed by the number of camels on the road all pulling heavy loads. We got to Jaipur at dusk having travelled 250 km today. On the approach road into Jaipur we saw many small paper kites being flown - quite apposite as Graham is reading the Kite Runner. We were unsuccessful at using the ATMs to get cash out so we'll have to wait till tomorrow. We are staying at the Holiday Inn. After a light meal in the bar/restaurant we retired to bed. It is a comfortable room which is good as we are here for two nights. But there is no wireless connection - well none free.

Previous DaySummaryNext day Fri, 01 Feb - Jaipur

After an excellent breakfast with some interesting Indian dishes, we met Vinod and our guide for today, Rama. A 10 minute drive took us out of town to the Amber Fort. A huge queue was already set in place for the elephant rides, due to an accident a few days ago and the new rules have slowed everything down. We queued for two hours in beautiful weather, sunny and warm. The ride was not the highlight of the day but at least we have now done one. At the top we got off right in the first courtyard of the Fort. We toured the fort visiting the palaces, the Hall of Victory and the Hall of Pleasure. Walking down from the Fort we saw the lake but it was not as beautiful as the books describe. Back in the car we drove through the local village and stopped at a very nice old ranch type place which is now a cottage industries bazaar. We had a go at stamping patterns on material to make dyed articles, watched carpet making whilst drinking tea and then spent ages being shown round everything they have for sale. Of course we didn't want to buy anything they had except Jane did want some marionettes so bought a pair for 340 rupees. We got back to Jaipur to a restaurant for a very nice lunch and then a tour of the city. It is called the Pink City but it is terracotta coloured. The City Palace made up of the  Palace of Winds , a museum of Armaments, mainly knives and guns. The Hall of Public Audience now houses a museum of art and manuscripts including miniature copies of Hindu scripts. The Hall of Private Audience houses 2 large silver vessels - reputedly the 2 largest silver vessels in the world. A third one was sunk in the harbour on the return trip from London. Whilst outside the museum office we made way for a suited gentleman in a wheel chair who was helped out and walked into the office. Rama told us he was the son-law of the last Prince Massingh II of Jaipur who was killed in a polo match in England some years ago. Our next stop was across the road at the Jantar Mantar, an observatory begun by Jai Singh in 1728. Each construction has a specific purpose for measuring time. The most impressive is a giant sundial 27m high, the shadow moves up to 4 metres per hour and it is accurate to 2 seconds. We were then offered a trip to a gem factory but we declined as we had no intention of buying any more here. A quick stop at a Citi Bank ATM for some more money and then we were taken back to the hotel. We said our good byes to the guide and arranged to meet Vinod for dinner at 7pm. Vinod took us to a very good restaurant where a couple played music whilst two women performed traditional dances in local Rajasthani costumes. One dance entailed balancing metal urns on the head.

Previous DaySummaryNext day Sat, 02 Feb - Jaipur to Delhi

We didn't do much today. Vinod drove us back the 250km to Delhi. We had one coffee and chocolate stop on the way. We had a call from the travel agent to say that our hotel for tomorrow had been changed. We arrived back at the Connaught Palace at 2pm. We said good bye to Vinod and, after a light lunch, we went to sleep after reading our books for a while. To read the local papers written in English it is necessary to know what the Indian counting scheme is. One lakh is 100,000. One crore is 100 lakh or 10 million. Another helpful gem of information is to realise that when people are nabbed, as the press reports, only their first name and age are printed. If surnames were to be printed a riot may ensue as the nabbed person is bringing the caste into disrepute. This appears to be an unwritten press code of conduct. Four elephants have been killed whilst trying to cross a railway line. One of the elephants was pregnant and the unborn baby had been propelled several yards by the collision. A fifth elephant was spotted walking by the carnage with tears in it eyes. In the evening we discovered that chicken was no longer being served because of bird flu so we had lamb and dal makhani - a wonderful concoction of black beans and kidney beans. The camera nearly had a complete rest today.

Previous DaySummaryNext day Sun, 03 Feb - Delhi to Chennai

We checked out of the hotel at 7am and were surprised to find Vinod had come to take us to the airport. The streets were very quiet but the Houses of Parliament were shrouded in mists so no photos were taken. At the airport our bags were strapped with stiff plastic tape as a security measure. We caught the 9:35am Kingfisher Airlines flight to Chennai. It landed at 11:45am and we were taken by taxi about thirty miles south of Chennai to the Fortune Chariot Beach Resort where we had lunch whilst our room was being prepared. Our room turned out to be a self-contained cottage. Jane went for a swim in the large swimming pool. Graham read his booked and looked at his email which you can get to for free when there isn't a power cut. We read in a newspaper that some cables have been cut somewhere in the sea near Egypt and several countries including India have had their internet services reduced. We joined the rest of the group in the bar at 8pm and then ate at the same table, all 23 of us. The camera nearly had a complete rest again today.

Previous DaySummaryNext day Mon, 04 Feb - Sulerikattukuppam and Mamallapuram

After a buffet breakfast we checked out of the hotel at 9:30am and were met by Gupi and Chandra from the Rotary Club of Madras. Our luggage was put on a coach and sent to the next hotel and we all piled into another coach and were driven ten minutes up the coast to a fishermen's village at Sulerikattukuppam which had been almost completely demolished by the tsunami of December 2004. Thanks to contributions from Rotary Clubs around the world and other sponsors a new village of 143 single bedroomed houses, a school. A refrigeration unit for the fish has been built but is not in use yet. We were shown around the school where around 500 children will be accommodated by the time the building work has been completed. We were shown the community centre, had a group photo taken and were given coconuts to drink the milk out of with straws. We were then driven to the Taj Fisherman's Cove hotel and welcomed with a shell necklace which fitted well with the hats we had already been given by Gupi and Chandra. We were allocated a room on the first floor. Lunch was served by waiters and appeared to be very international food - king fish and lobster - very nice. At 2.30pm 9 of us met in reception for a sightseeing tour of Mamallapuram. We had a lovely Indian lady guide who was about our age if not a little older. Her face was full of expression. We visited the various sites making up the Mamallapuram group of monuments. The monuments date from 600 to 800 AD. They are huge and are made up of small temples sculpted out of rocks. It is incredible to think how they did it all those years ago with limited tools, none made of metal. Three generation of kings had the various 'temples' made. The locals did not want to worship in temples made of granite so they were never consecrated and remain 'monuments' therefore we did not have to take our shoes off to enter them. We saw Casuarina trees which originally came from Australia many years ago. They are quick growing and produce good wood for fires. They shield the coastline. Also the flowers and leaves are used in medicines. Another tree that is very common and used for medicines is the Neem tree. The Taj Fisherman's cove has a nice garden with Frangipani trees in flower, catalpas, palm trees and many others. After the sightseeing at 6pm we both went for a swim in the pool amongst the trees. As it was getting darker the crows were all making a lot of noise and flying all around us finding a nice place to spend the night. Dinner at 8pm was a buffet containing lots of lovely foods. We retired to bed at 10pm.

Previous DaySummaryNext day Tue, 05 Feb - Kanathan, Rotary Club, Boys and Girls Homes

Once again, we got up, packed up, had breakfast and put our cases outside the bedroom at 9.30am. We were driven up the coast in the air-conditioned Chinese coach to a Rotary Project in the village of Kanathan. The Rotary Project provides a marriage hall , some sleeping quarters, buildings where visiting doctors and dentists can set up a temporary surgery , a building where computer training can be given, two small temples and an administration building. We were shown around most of the buildings and given coconuts to quench our thirst. In the vocational training building there was a small ceremony where two graduate students were given their certificates of achievement. We got back in the coach and were driven further north into the centre of Delhi to our hotel, the Taj Connemara. Our room is much bigger and more luxurious than the one at Fisherman's Cove, which is good as we are here for four nights. We changed quickly for the lunch time Rotary meeting, men's dress code: short sleeve shirts and shoes. The Rotary meeting was held in one of the many banqueting halls in the hotel. We had a vegetarian buffet. The meeting was chaired by a lady President and various speeches of welcome were given and one of the Madras Rotarians, Chandra, was made an honorary member of the Fareham Meon Rotary Club. After the meeting we went back to the room to change into shorts and sandals. After a brief interlude we got back into the coach and were driven to the Selaiyur Boys Home on the outskirts of Chennai which was started by the Fareham Meon and Madras clubs as a joint venture. It is a hostel where boys stay and receive extra-curricular activities which will prepare them to get employment after they leave school. They attend a nearby school. We were greeted by the pupils and given garlands and a spot of orange paste was placed on our foreheads. The main feature on the plot of land (about two acres) is a large square building surrounding a courtyard. Recently a second floor has been added. Several plaques were unveiled and ribbons cut as we toured the block. The upper floor was dedicated to our tour leader, Richard Gardner, who initiated the whole project in the mid-eighties. On the second floor there are several dormitories with metal bunk beds in them. The boys used to sleep on mats. A computer room was dedicated to the late Bob Taubman who had gathered the original collection of computers. A library was dedicated to our treasurer, Roger Kidd. A gymnasium was dedicated to the Carpenters. Suzi Carpenter, a daughter of one of our members, has raised a lot of money for the project in Belgium and their son had worked at the home for three months. We then gathered in a meeting hall, quenched our thirst on coconut milk, listened to some speeches and presented certificates to graduating pupils. The current set of resident boys sat cross legged and quiet on the floor whilst the visitors sat in chairs at the edge of the room. Four pupils danced for us. The home also offers vocational training for photographers and electricians. The land was bought from the government for £300 and is now worth £1 million. We clambered back into the coach and taken to the Barbara Kelly Home for girls at Sholinganullar.  By now we were half an hour behind schedule so it was only a brief visit. Thirty girls stay at the home. They range in age from five years to twenty. We met them, all smiling and smartly dressed. After formal teaching at nearby schools they are taught to use computers and sewing machines. The home was much cleaner than the boys' home. We gathered in a room for some speeches and quenched our thirsts with tea, Indian style. The tea, water, milk and sugar are all boiled together. By the time we got back to the hotel it was 7:45pm so our departure for the evening meal was delayed till 8:30pm. We were transported to the Madras Club - men's dress code: long sleeved shirts, shoes and socks. The club is housed in a grand building built in 1842. It once had an eighteen hole golf course surrounding it but that has gone. We were met by other Rotarians and members of the Inner Wheel - Rotary for wives and daughters. We had an English style buffet - chicken, roast potatoes and shepherds pie, bread and butter pudding, for example. It was a relief from the spicy Indian food. Graham had his last drink containing alcohol, a glass of red wine, for a while. We got back to the hotel at 11:30pm, exhausted.

Previous DaySummaryNext day Wed, 06 Feb - Madharpakkam and Boys Home at Gummidipoondi

It's the first day of Lent today and we are not going on any organised outing until 2pm. We get up and have breakfast in the Verandah restaurant overlooking the swimming pool. We sign on to the internet and sort out all the emails. Jane swims in the pool whilst Graham and Brian Ray are driven away by Chandra's driver in search of a suit which Graham needs for the wedding. They are shown to Raymonds Shop where Graham learns that he is of the wrong shape and size for an off-the-peg suit. He selects his material and Brian selects from a choice of two which are folded, jacket-like, over a sheet which has been wrapped around Brian's torso to protect the material. The two tourists are taken to the measuring counter where one man with a measuring tape calls out various lengths in inches and another man writes them down as a comma separated list on an order sheet. It was a bit like the dentist calling out the depths of gum pockets to his assistant but using larger numbers. The suits are paid for and the tourists arrange to return between 6pm and 8:30pm tomorrow for the fitting. Chandra's driver returned his passengers, clutching their receipts and samples of material, to the hotel. We had a light lunch in our rooms, a couple of imported healthy chewy bars and an orange. At 2pm we set off in the coach for the original Boys Town Project but first we had to get through the Chennai traffic. At a railway bridge a dumper truck had been in an accident and was partially blocking the oncoming traffic so it was a battle of the quickest and most manoeuvrable. The cyclists, motorbikers and autorickshaws (aka Tuc Tuc) were the champions. We were held up for 30 minutes until our driver's mate took matters into his hand and persuaded the oncoming traffic to reverse and let us through otherwise they might have been a serious diplomatic incident. We drove through very flat countryside to the village of Madharpakkam where we visited a boys school where a water tank and computer room had been financed by Rotary funds. The school is where the boys from the Boys Town Project receive their formal education. Many laughing smiling boys were in the playground. We then travelled back through the village to the Boys Town Project at Gummidipoondi. The site extends to 34.27 acres but has only a few buildings for the boys. We were greeted by the boys and presented with a garland of flowers. We visited the water tank and irrigation scheme financed by the Fareham Meon Rotary club. There was a 24 feet deep well in which fish swam as did the boys. We then gathered under an awning, had a bite to eat washed down with Indian tea, listened to some speeches and watched two boys dance on a platform. Unfortunately we were behind schedule so only one dance was performed. The boys showed us their paintings and we got back on the bus for the two hour journey back to the hotel. There were no traffic jams. After a quick wash and brush up we went for a 10 minute ride to the Madras Gymkhana Club. We had nibbles, free drinks - tonic for Graham and water for Jane, followed by a brief discussion of the sponsored projects and then an English style buffet. We got back at 11:30pm, not so exhausted as yesterday. We have yet to see rain and the temperature seems to remain at 31C.

Previous DaySummaryNext day Thu, 07 Feb - Chennai shopping and a Beach Buffet

A quiet day awaits us. Quite a few in the party are having intestinal problems. Out of 23, 12 have been struck in one way or another. Five of us go in the coach to the Cane and Bamboo Emporium run by one of the Madras Rotarians. It turned out be a pleasant and far from costly experience. We returned laden with Christmas presents. For further retail therapy we walked around the corner from the hotel to the Spencer Plaza where we spent much time walking passed the stalls and finally we succumbed. We bought two postcards for 13 rupees (about 9p each). No doubt the postage will cost much more than that. Jane went for a swim whilst Graham did his Egyptian PT. At 5:45pm Graham and Brian were picked up by Chandra's driver and taken for the suit fitting. At Raymond's Shop they took turns to go into the trial room to try the suits on. There were three men to look at Graham's suit on him, the person who sold the material, the measurer, and a third man. The sleeves have to be shortened by half an inch and the legs lengthened by the same amount. The suit will be ready to pick up tomorrow at 6pm. At 7pm the party, well at least half of it, got on the coach and were driven down the coast to a beach house in between the Fisherman's Cove hotel and the Fortune Chariot hotel. The house was at the end of a long dirt drive enclosed by a wall. It was surrounded by palm trees and lights. The bumpy lawns were littered with chairs and benches. A DJ played music on the patio. A buffet was set up on the beach. The house was owned by one of the younger Rotarians who is an ophthalmic surgeon and looks a bit like a young Yul Brinner. Following the tsunami of December 2004 the grounds and first floor were covered with seven feet of sand. It took many months to clear the mess up and rebuild the house. Many of the owners' friends were there. They were much more capable of using the dance floor than we were. We left at 10:30pm and it took just an hour to get back to the hotel.

Snippets of the day: Chandra's full name is Mr V. K. Chandrakumar. The V is a name that represents the village he was born in and the K represents his father's family. This is a common way of forming someone's name in India. Chandra's wife is called Usha Chandrakumar so she took his last name when she married him which she did by arrangement nearly 38 years ago. Chandra's parents knew Usha's parents and they checked the horoscopes and other astrological factors relating to Chandra and Usha and found that they got a tick in all ten boxes so at the age of seventeen it was decided that they should be married. They were first formally introduced to each other at a family gathering.

Previous DaySummaryNext day Fri, 08 Feb - Tour of Chennai

We got up late, had breakfast, and met Mrs Bala Rao in the lobby. She was the same lady who'd taken us around the monuments earlier in the week. We clambered onto the coach, all ten of us, and set off but the driver lightly struck a car in the hotel car park. If it had been a private car it would not have mattered but it was a government car. It took about 20 minutes to sort the problem out. It looks as though the driver will be suspended by his company for ten days. Eventually we got to the Kapaleeswarar Hindu Shiva temple. We took off our shoes and walked around it treading carefully on the hot slabs. As it was Friday there were a lot of women praying for the health of their husbands. We saw the huge tank where a summer festival is held and where inedible cat fish purify the water. One 2000 year-old tree had yellow string tied around its trunk where people had prayed to have children. Our next stop was the Basilica of St Thomas (aka San Thome Cathedral), one of three churches in the world to be built over the tomb of an apostle. The tomb of St Thomas is in the basement. The church was rebuilt on 1893 in neogothic style. It was very light inside and not as big as we had expected. We were then driven alongside the beach, the second longest in the world, to George Town. This is where Robert Clive had his home and offices and where he got married in St Mary's church (the first English church to be built in Madras in 1680). There are a lot of government buildings in George Town. We got back in the bus and taken back to the hotel where the driver was told to park outside. We had a light lunch and returned to our room. Jane slept from 3.15pm till 5.15pm. Graham went out at 5:45pm with Brian and Chandra's driver to pick up his suit. When they got to the shop they found that their suits fitted them perfectly but they were missing a buttonhole so these would be added and the suits would be sent to the hotel. At 7:45pm we got into the coach. There were 20 of us this time. The coach was the most crowded it had been since leaving the Fisherman's Cove hotel on Tuesday. We arrived at the Madras Cricket Club to be welcomed by Christopher who looks after the Boys Town Project. We climbed up several flights of stairs to a private room where food and drink were plentiful - more tonic water for Graham. Some other Rotarians whom we had not met previously were there. We met a film producer called Ramu who has invited the English wedding guests to Sunday lunch when we return to Chennai. He told us that when he visited the safari park at Woburn Abbey he was surprised to find a killer whale had also been named Ramu. There was a delightful 24 year-old young lady who had been studying in Sydney, Australia and was now a member of the Madras Rotary Club. We also met up again with Tangum and Thomas Phillips and confirmed the agreement to bulk buy some of their goods and have them left for us at the wedding hotel. We left the cricket club at about 10pm and when we got back to the hotel we found that the suits were waiting for us. Graham had a private fashion show with Jane who was very pleased that the suit fitted so well and looked very smart on Graham. He was told he must look after it. After all it had cost £230 of which £45 was for converting the material into the suit.

Previous DaySummaryNext day Sat, 09 Feb - Train from Chennai to Madurai

We had a leisurely breakfast and packed our bags which are now much fuller with all our purchases. We got on a coach to drive to the Egmore Railway Station. There are 20 of us on the coach. Colin flew back home in the early hours. Richard and Wynn will fly to join us tomorrow as Wynn is unwell. Porters loaded our luggage into carriage C2 which is 'first class'. It has leatherette seats, drop-down trays and air conditioning. We set off on time at 12:30pm. After a while we ask for the heating to be turned up as we are all getting cold with the A/C. Men in blue and red chequered shirts walk up and dwon selling refreshments from large metal trays or drinks from urns. We buy some crisps, marsala flavoured, but we decline everything else like the curries, omelettes, tea, coffee and fruit juices. When drinks are served from an urn the urn is held between the legs and a cup put under the tap. The cup is lowered beneath the urn and raised to create froth on the drink. The countryside we pass through is very flat. There are rice paddies, palm trees, cattle and mud. It rains heavily a couple of times. The carriage has a display which tells us the time and the name of the next station though we do not stop at all of them. When the train stops the display turns from red lights to yellow lights. At 8:30pm we arrive at Madurai Junction which is where the train also ends its journey. A guide greets us and negotiations with porters begin. We walk to a coach and, when our luggage arrives, we are taken to the Fortune Pandiyan Hotel which is, according to the chef at breakfast, the best hotel in Madurai. We are allocated room 404 which has two twin beds, a bathroom, small fridge, coffee-making equipment and a TV which does not work. It also has a ubiquitous large plastic bucket and measuring jug in the bathroom. Apparently this is used by some instead of a shower to get more clean water over their bodies. After a buffet supper at 10pm we retire to bed. Although we have done nothing but read our books on the train we are quite tired.

Previous DaySummaryNext day Sun, 10 Feb - Tour of Madurai

We got up early and 16 of us got in the coach with our guide called Sabri who was dressed in a distinctive orange shirt. We were taken into the centre of Madurai to the Tirumalai Nayak Palace which was designed by an Italian architect and built in an Indo-Persian style in 1636. Only one quarter of it now exists, the main pillared courtyard and the dance hall. It was quite splendid. We then moved on into the centre of the city of over 1million people into a narrow street that could just about squeeze a coach into, and parked. We walked along some muddy streets to the Sri Meenaski Temple which is claimed to be the largest active temple in the world. It occupies 15 acres and contains the tallest buildings (50 metres) in the city. These are the giant towers called gopurams which straddle the entrances to the temple. They are covered with statues and painted in multiple colours. It is a very popular place for weddings and several were taking place during our visit. Only Hindus are allowed to enter the inner sanctum. There are a lot of tall pillars all carved out of single pieces of granite. One part is called the temple of 1000 pillars but there are only 986. The place was bustling with people and stalls selling religious objects like candles and cosmetic turmeric powder. Once out of the temple we climbed to the top of a souvenir shop to take panoramic views of the temple and its surroundings. We got back into the coach and returned to the hotel for a buffet lunch. After lunch we sorted out the emails and Jane went for a swim whilst Graham practised his Egyptian PT.

Previous DaySummaryNext day Mon, 11 Feb - Madurai to Thekkadi and a boat trip on Lake Periyar

After a lot of hanging around at reception we checked out. The hotel appears to have a hybrid paper and computer system and there are not enough people to check the mini-bars. All 22 of us boarded the coach and it headed south west to the Tamil Nadu/Kerala border. The scenery was very varied. Coconut plantations, rice paddies, sugar cane crops, grape vines, cattle, sunflowers bordered the road which barely holds two lanes. We stopped at a brick maker's site and watched a women pour mud into a wooden frame with her hands and flatten the surface of the mould. The bricks appear to dry in the sun. We notice that women appear to perform the majority of outdoor jobs such as road maintenance, agriculture, and brick making. We have seen very few women in the hotels except at reception desks. After driving over flat land for a couple of hours we climb up the eastern edge of the Western Ghats and arrive at the state border. Shortly afterwards we get to our hotel, the Cardomom County, in Thekkadi. There are a lot of separate buildings on a hillside where the rooms are situated. The gardens contain cardamom plants and mango trees as well as palms. We have a buffet lunch as usual which we washed down with a bottle of cold mineral water. After lunch we get back into the coach and go up to the Periyar Lake where we walk to a boat and board it. The guide has reserved most of the upper deck of the double decker boat. We sit in plastic garden seats. The boat meanders along the windy but narrow lake. We stop at Kodak spots on the lake to photograph the fish otters, deer, bison, black monkeys and nesting cormorants. We see one or two other birds but there is no sign of any of the 60 tigers which roam the 777 sq km reserve, nor do we see any of the elephants. We get back to the dock after a ninety minute trip. It has been very relaxing. We walk back to the coach and return to our hotel. After another buffet evening meal we retire to bed.

Previous DaySummaryNext day Tue, 12 Feb - Thekkadi to Kumarakom via Spice and Tea Plantations

We are woken up by the alarm and the sound of pouring rain but it soon stops. We check out of the hotel at 9am and get taken in the coach to a spice plantation where we had a guided tour. It looked like any piece of rain forest until the guide stopped at a pepper plant. It grows like a vine and has dangling collections of small green berries. When they ripen they go black or red. We were shown a cardamom which looks like a small bamboo but has an orchid-like flower growing from its base which produces the cardamom seeds. We saw ginger, coffee and cocoa plants as well as allspice, cinnamon, and lemon grass. An elephant was chewing palm leaves which make part of its skin go pink. We next visited the Connemarra tea plantation and factory. The leaves are cut off with clippers which have a bag attached to collect the cuttings. These are dried for 24 hours using warm air. The leaves are cleared of dust and bits and fed down a chute into a machine that grinds up the leaves. The conveyor belt carries the bits into an oven where the tea is oxidised. It is then sorted into granule size. The leaves by now are not discernible and it all looks like dust and slightly larger lumps of dust. We are driven through coffee, pineapple and rubber plantations down the western edge of the Western Ghats and have a comfort stop where crisps, bananas, cashew nuts and Coca Cola are purchased since it is now nearly 1pm. We proceed to drive through the large city of Kottayam and along some waterways to the Radisson Plaza at Kumarakom. The Communist Party of India (Marxist) is holding a conference in Kottayam and the roadsides are decorated with white hammer and sickle on red flags. Even the waterways have communist emblems floating on them. It all seems rather strange as there appear to be many more Christian churches in Kerala than elsewhere in India. At the hotel we have to wait for our rooms to be cleaned and eventually we get into them late in the afternoon. The hotel is enclosed by a fence and once inside the fence it is very easy to forget the poverty, busyness and dirtiness which are outside the fence. We have a very luxurious downstairs room in a four-bedroom block which overlooks the water. Graham has a touch of neuralgia in his left shoulder and arm so Jane prescribes a massage. An hour-long Patra Podala Swedanum massage is recommended at the Massage Centre. It starts by the patient stripping off and wearing a sort of thong around the nether regions. The patient sits on a stool and has their feet bathed. Then the head, neck and back are pummelled and massaged. In the background music by Ravi Shankar or someone similar is played to distract the mind. The patient climbs on to a wooden bed face-down, has oil drizzled onto the body and then has the living daylights carefully beaten out of them. A hot bolus containing medicinal leaves is bounced over the exposed body. The masseur's arms glide effortlessly up and down the tired body just for relief from the pummelling. At the end of the procedure the patient climbs down from the bed and sits in a capsule which completely surrounds the body except for the head. The heat is turned up and the patient is fried while the masseur smiles and prepares the bed for the next victim. When crispy and golden the victim climbs out of the capsule and has a shower and dresses. The client is escorted to a sun lounger where they are given water and a cup of some sort of medicinal flavoured tea sweetened with honey and then the bill is presented. It is an interesting experience not to be missed. Meanwhile Jane has been swimming. We have a buffet evening meal and are entertained by cross-legged musicians and two traditionally costumed maidens who perform barefooted with lots of graceful gestures and facial expressions.

Previous DaySummaryNext day Wed, 13 Feb - A day to recharge the batteries

For a change we are in no rush today so we get up and have breakfast at 9am. Jane books a massage for 3pm. We go back to our room and read for a while. Jane goes to the gym where she meets Janet and then half an hour of cycling and walking. Graham is summoned to join Jane at the pool. Most of the group are lying around or in the pool. We try a new drink called a Kentucky Derby which has a base of ginger. It is delicious. We go back to the room and have a frugal lunch similar to what we had yesterday on the coach but without the Coca Cola. At the appointed hour Jane has her massage and returns to the room. We go for a walk around the hotel site taking photographs of paddybirds and koels. Some of the cottages have their own swimming pool with notices imploring residents not to dive into them. If they are anything like the main pool they are only four feet deep. We met for pre dinner drinks at the Trunk Call bar which overlooks the large lake. We have the Kentucky Derby drink, made from ginger, mint and ginger ale, but it was not as good as that by the pool. We eat another buffet meal and then go to bed. A firework display many miles away keeps it from being a quiet room for half an hour.

Previous DaySummaryNext day Thu, 14 Feb - Boat trip to Alleppy and coach to Cochin

The male waiters at breakfast greet the ladies with a Happy Valentine's Day even though they do not have such a day in India. We check out and gather in the lobby. The hotel management apologise for the poor laundry service that some of the party have had and give each couple a small wooden box of spices. We board a boat by the Trunk Call bar. The boat is a double decker and is just for our party. We travel slowly by the side of the backwater lake and along wide canals joining other lakes. It's a bit like the Everglades in Florida but there are more palm trees and rice paddies and fewer weeds. There are fishermen. We pass many rattan covered house boats (Kettuvallam) and little houses bordering the water. We see many lovely birds and Jane is very happy snapping away at Kingfishers, Herons, Paddybirds Cormorants etc. After 2.5 hours we arrive at Alleppy, the Venice of Kerala, and get back onto the coach. An hour later we arrive at the Le Meridien resort at Cochin where we are greeted with a dab of yellow paste on the forehead and a glass of sweet lemon juice. Our room is on the third floor. It is very comfortable and overlooks the gardens and swimming pool. In the afternoon we both have a swim. In the evening we all meet in the Jules Bar for pre-dinner drinks. We try a mocktail. The one we choose is a mixture of cranberry juice and coconut milk, a poor man's pina colada. An ex-Indian cricketer greets us. He has a home stay in Bangalore called the Bat and Ball named after the pub by Broadhalfpenny Down, Hambledon, the cradle of cricket. We sit in the restaurant as far away as possible from the two English girls who try and entertain us with their form of karaoke whilst we eat the buffet. There is a rose for everyone as it is still St Valentine's Day. We say goodbye to Paul and Suzi, Richard and Wynn, Charles and Bernice who leave early tomorrow.

Previous DaySummaryNext day Fri, 15 Feb - Tour of Cochin and a Katakhali Dance

We get up late and, after breakfast, Jane has a swim. Graham prefers to read a book in the cooler bedroom. After sharing a club sandwich for lunch we are transported to the old part of Cochin (or Kochi as it is now called) where we alight from the coach and enter the church of St Francis but before we do we take off our shoes. It is now an Anglican Church. It is the oldest Christian church in India being built by the Portuguese in the 16th century. Vasco Da Gama was buried here but was later removed back to Portugal. The church was rebuilt by the Dutch and taken over by the British. It has very Spartan decoration. It has a pair of punkas with ropes attached to them which end up outside the church. The ropes were pulled by wallahs to keep the church cool. They were called punkawallahs. We are shown various trees which surround what used to be a British parade ground such as a banyan tree, a tamarind tree, and a mango tree. We walk to the seaside where we see old Chinese fishing nets being operated. We have a go at pulling them up nd pay some rupees for the activity. We pass a fish stall and then are taken in the coach to the dhobi khana which is a large open air laundry. The dirty articles are washed in concrete sheds and then hung up to dry on washing lines without using pegs. It is then ironed using very heavy electric irons or heavier ones filled with glowing charcoal. We then visit the Cottage Arts Emporium for an opportunity to buy souvenirs but everyone declines. We visit the Santa Cruz Basilica which is a Roman Catholic Church where the removal of shoes is optional. It is much more decorated than the Anglican Church. We return to the church of St Francis and Jane negotiates with a stall owner to buy a toy autorickshaw. The barterer has a heyday. She drives a hard bargain and saves 400 rupees by buying six for 500 rupees. She sells five to other members of the party who are happy to pay 100 rupees a car. There will be a lot of happy grandchildren. After a drink in a local café we walk to the Katakhali theatre. It is a building with one floor of seating and walls made of rattan. It is kept cold by fans dangling from the ceiling and theatregoers waving the personal raffia fans provide by the management. We are early for the show in order to watch the three male artists apply their extraordinary make up. The compere gives us a description of the acting technique. There are no words just expressions and particular finger combinations to give the meaning. We leave towards the end of the first scene as it is eight o'clock and the seats are uncomfortable. We miss the killing of Baka by Bhima with the blessing of Brahmin. Six of the party skipped the show and returned to the hotel via two autorickshaws costing the grand some of 150 rupees per vehicle. It is a twenty minute ride in the coach back to the hotel across several waterways. We have the communal buffet and retire to our room to pack for an early start tomorrow.

Previous DaySummaryNext day Sat, 16 Feb - Flight to Chennai and a Marriage Blessing

The alarm goes off at 6am. Jane finishes packing. We go to the restaurant and wait for them to open at 6:30am. Six of us get into a minibus at 7:30 and are driven to the airport. The other two are on a later plane and will be staying at the hotel where the wedding is taking place. Our plane is half an hour late. It is a French turbo prop ATR-42 and holds about 80 passengers. We arrive in Chennai and are driven down the coast to the Fortune Chariots hotel, the same hotel we stayed in on our first night in Chennai. Our sea view cottages are not ready and won't be until we return from the wedding so we settle for non-sea view cottages. Jane has a swim. The moment of truth has arrived. Will Graham's suit still fit him or has he put on too much weight? Phew, it fits perfectly. We all left in the minibus to drive to the GRT Temple Hotel which is about a ten minute drive away. We were greeted by Benji and Valsa, the parents of Sara who is married to Vivek. The ceremony we are to witness in the blessing of the marriage as that has already taken. We are shown to our seats in the third row from the front. There are about 400 seats all covered in white cloth. Graham sits next to a beautiful young female diplomat from Lithuania called Wanda who stayed with Benji for five months last year doing a Group Study Exchange programme organised by Rotary. Most of the ladies are dressed in saris and have had their hands decorated with henna. They look splendid. The men are dressed in suits. The proceedings start with the bridal party walking down the aisle between the seats to the decorated temporary temple at the front. The Anglican priest welcomes the guests and starts the service. We stand and sing a hymn. Next the couple make their vows. We sing another hymn seated. The local presbyter (who wore a black fez) conducts the next part in Mamalayam (the language of Kerala) which requires Vivek to give a gift of a large piece of silk (Mandirakodi) and to tie a Minnu (a pendant hanging on seven strands of fibre take from the silk cloth) around Sara's neck. The weddings rings are then blessed. Some prayers are said. The bridesmaid reads a short passage from the Bible. The choir sing Psalm 23. There are a couple more prayers and the bridal party leave the way they arrived accompanied by the Wedding March. We are ushered to find a table on the lawn behind the service seats. There are only six seats per table and there are eight in our party. We get invited to join Thomas, Tangam and Usha at their table. To stave off hunger we eat the piece of cake which is in a ribboned box on the side plate. There are some speeches from the bridal party. Guests from afar are welcomed. We stand up when announced. The happy couple are toasted with Champagne or water. The cake is cut. A wonderful firework display takes place. Dancing, drinking and socialising begin. Thomas and Tangam are Christians and even their marriage 32 years ago was an arranged marriage. Eventually at about 8pm we eat the Indian buffet. Apparently the eating is last because Indians 'eat and run'. The happy couple are introduced to all the tables. Sara and Vivek will be returning to live in Boston at the beginning of March. At 9:15pm we return to our hotel having picked up a heavy package from Thomas which is Jane's purchase from their shop.

Previous DaySummaryNext day Sun, 17 Feb - Lunch at a Palace and a Wedding Reception

We all get into the minibus at 10:30am, pickup Brian and Audrey from their hotel, and are driven up the East Coast Road to Chennai. We arrive in South Boag Road at noon and after a phone call drive through the large blue gates of Ramu's family home. It was the home of Sivaji Ganeshan, the well known Indian actor, but is now his two sons' and a cousin of theirs. It was originally built by an Englishman, Mr Boag, but was enlarged by Ramu's father. 15 family members live there along with 20 servants. It is a miniature palace with lots of souvenirs in display cupboards collected by Ramu's mother on her trips around the world. We are shown into the reception hall. There is a display cupboard with Ramu's father's trophies and awards. The eight of us are joined by a couple of other Rotarians including Regina whom we'd met at the Madras Cricket Club. We are shown into the bar where on the walls are various bottles of whisky from around the world and wine in odd shaped bottles. Some of the other men sample a Japanese whisky. We drink Coke. We are shown to the dining room where we sit at a large 200 year old table and eat some nibbles until the food is brought in and put on another table. We eat the food and are regaled by Ramu. Ramu works in the Tamil Film Industry (not 'Tollywood' as the press call it) and so do his son's and nephews. When we leave at 3pm we are each presented with an embroidered Hessian bag containing a book on Madras and the English version of the autobiography of Sivaji Ganeshan. We feel very honoured and privileged to have been able to visit Ramu's home. Hopefully we can return a bit of hospitality when they visit England. We are driven to the Ambassador Palava hotel where we have booked a room. While Jane takes a nap Graham starts to read the fascinating autobiography. Sivaji was born on the day his father was arrested for blowing up railway lines in 1928. His father was part of a movement fighting for independence. Sivaji left home at the age of seven and joined a travelling troupe of artists who performed street plays. His film career started when he was 18 and ended when he was 71, by which time he had been in over 300 films. The road by the side of his house is named after him. Ramu's mother died last October. At 6:30pm we are taken to the wedding hall in three Tuc-Tucs. It cost us 150 Rupees and the journey lasted less than 10 minutes. It was quite an experience being driven in and out of the traffic in the highly manoeuvrable vehicle. We are greeted at the hall by Benji and his son George. We take up our seats in the third row of the 800-seater hall. A seven-piece band is sitting cross-legged by the side of us and is playing loud Indian music. Photographers are everywhere and their pictures are displayed on a video screen in front of the stage. After a while the bridal party walk down the middle aisle and onto the stage. The married couple wore large colourful garlands of flowers and Vivek has shaven is moustache off. Why? Once the bridal party were standing at the back of the stage the guests formed an orderly queue and walked onto the stage and shook the hands of the bridal party. At first it appears that only guest with presents do this. We don't go up on the stage because we had already given our present, a silver picture frame. As more and more people walk on the stage without presents we go on stage, shake hands and have our photograph taken. We walk off the stage and down a flight of stairs to the 'Quick Chat and Buffet' - more food. Jane has some but Graham eats just a couple of small bananas. At 8:30pm we make our way to the entrance of the hall. Throngs of people are still entering the hall. We were told that between 4 and 5 thousand people would shake hands with the bridal party. As we are leaving we are each given a paper bag containing auspicious items; a coconut (for fertility), two Betel leaves (to chase away bad spirits), a sachet of sugar(symbolising Ganesha, the remover of obstacles) and a double sachet of turmeric(purity, prosperity, and fertility) and kumkum(strength and stability) powder. Once outside the hall chaos reigns. The street is blocked and horns are honking. Fortunately three Tuc-tucs were available so we got in them and were taken back to the hotel. We went to our rooms and tried to sleep till 11:30 pm when we got up and checked out. Our driver was ready for us. We are now six in the minibus. Brian and Audrey are leaving for Goa tomorrow at a sensible time. We are driven to the airport. The roads are not busy.

Previous DaySummaryNext day Mon, 18 Feb - Chennai to Dubai

We checked our bags in and then queued for 45 minutes to get through immigration. We then queue again to go through the hand luggage security check and discover we have missed the business class lounge. All six of us sit together. Graham writes up the diary and Jane plays on her game machine. We embark at 3:15am but the plane does not take off for another 3 hours - fog in Dubai and a technical problem. We say goodbye to India which is best summed up by the road sign often displayed - "Work in Progress. Go Slow". We arrive in Dubai at 9am which is 10:30am in Chennai. We said goodbye to Don and Janet and Arthur and Ingrid who were due to have gone back on an early connecting flight which might have been delayed. We get an Emirates driver to take us to the hotel. He is Indian and is afraid to drive in his home country. The road is a six-lane-aside dual carriageway and bordered by high rise buildings. There are no auto rickshaws, rubbish or horns blaring. No one is driving against the flow of traffic. There are patches of green grass, flower beds and palms. Construction cranes are everywhere. Apparently they are building 24 hours a day as the ruler of Dubai (His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum) has declared that all buildings must be completed by the end of 2015. We are driven to the Hilton Hotel at Jumeirah and are able to move into our room at 11am. It overlooks the swimming pool nd the beach. Jane goes for a swim. Most of the rest of the day is spent dozing in the room. We join the party that arrived here on Saturday (Barry, Edna, Ian, Lynn, Freda and Joan) for an a la carte meal in the Italian restaurant in the hotel. It was a jolly tasty rice-free, curry-free sea food meal with calamares, prawns, jumbo prawns and scallops.

Previous DaySummaryNext day Tue, 19 Feb - Ski Slope and Desert Safari

We have a buffet breakfast which includes a glass of orange juice produced by a machine from a basket of fresh oranges. We get on the 9:30am free shuttle bus which drops us off at the Mall of the Emirates to do some window shopping except Jane fails and buys a toy camel for our grandson. We admire the ski slope in the Mall as we have aready seen the outside of it. We get a taxi back to the hotel and ask the driver to stop by the Burg Al Arab which is 185 metres tall and where you can purchase afternoon tea, provided you were careful to reserve a place at least four months before. The tea will cost you 395 Dhs (about £55) per person. The hotel was built on an island so that it could contain a casino but it was completed after the then ruler had died. The new ruler is stricter and forbad the casino to be used as such so it was converted into part of the hotel. After stopping at the Kodak spot we continue on passed the residences of the ruler and his brothers. We take lunch by the swimming pool. At 3:30pm we are picked up by a 4x4 to go on a Desert Safari & BBQ run by Planet Tours and Safaris. We share the Toyota Land Cruiser with a young couple from Sheffield and an older couple from the south of Sweden. Our driver is a Pakistani. The first stop is a petrol station which is to be used for calls of nature as there will not be any more opportunities for a couple of hours. Petrol costs 20p a litre which is cheaper than bottled water. We drive for about 45 minutes in total in a northerly direction and then turn off the road for a short while where we join other similar vehicles. There are eighteen Chelsea tractors in our group and it turns out that our driver is head boy. The tyres on the vehicles are deflated by fifty percent to cope with dune driving. When our driver blows his whistle everyone gets into their vehicle and follows ours which goes up and down the dunes rather like a roller coaster. It is jolly good fun though might not have been for those in the one that got stuck on top of a sand ridge. We stop occasionally for photos and also to check that the team is all together. We stop at sun down and take pictures. Sometimes we can glimpse the main highway about half a mile away and the scenery can be marred by the distant electric wires and pylons. We pass several camel farms. At about seven o'clock we arrive at a camp site where we enter and, at the suggestion of the driver, quickly reserve a low table and cushions by the large square rug in the centre of the site. We have a short camel ride and then wander around the stalls. Soft fizzy drinks and water are free. We do not dress in an Arab costume, nor do we have henna painted on our bodies and neither do we try the sand-boarding or the hubble-bubble ipes. We wait for the barbecue and view a video of the journey on a large screen. There is a lot of food and meat. The naan bread is made on top of an oil drum on its side with a fire inside. We watch a belly dancer gyrate, as they do, in front of us on the carpet. At 9pm we start our return to our hotel admiring the endless construction work on the way. The 'safari' was very good value for money at 235 Dhs per head, cheaper than last night's meal in the Italian restaurant.

Previous DaySummaryNext day Wed, 20 Feb - Gold Souk and Dubai Creek

A little after breakfast we boarded the hotel's shuttle service at 10:30am which takes us to the Gold Souk. On the way we have a glimpse of the Burj Dubai which, when completed at the end of the year, will be three-quarters of a kilometre high. 15,000 people are working round the clock to complete it. The Gold Souk is on the north side of Dubai Creek and hidden behind the main street. We wander around it and buy nothing. However Jane buys a couple of T-shirts for our grandson. By luck we stumble across the Heritage House and enter it free of charge. The rooms of the house are built around a central courtyard. We visit them all and Jane makes a couple of purchases in the souvenir shop. We sit down in the middle of the courtyard under a shade and on cushions where we eat a chickpea, lemon and chilli soup, drink sweet tea and eat pancakes with honey. On this occasion we pay our largest percentage tip. The food was free and prepared by a young man from Bangladesh. The man at the door of the museum is a Filipino. We go next door to the reconstructed Al-Almadiya School. We watch several videos about the school. The first school in Dubai was built in 1922 and only texts from the Koran and morals were taught. Formal education began in 1956 when history, geography, maths, and religion were taught. The school moved in 1962 to larger premises and the building was abandoned. We ambled through the streets full of wholesale food shops where the goods are often in large sacks. A 10kg sealed bag of cashew nuts from Mozambique costs 235 Dhs. We decide to take a ferry across the creek but are persuaded by a large Bangladeshi man to take an hour long trip on his boat up and down the creek. It was well worth the cost of 75 Dhs per person. He dropped us on the south side of the creek and we take a taxi back to the hotel. We are disappointed to find that we cannot use the Emirates free shuttle service to the airport tomorrow as it is less than 24 hours before our plane departs. Jane has a swim in the Arabian Gulf and in the hotter swimming pool. We partake of the "Steak and Jazz" buffet in the hotel. Not a lot of jazz but the beef was good as was the starter of crayfish, scampi, scallops and prawns.

Previous DaySummaryNext day Thu, 21 Feb - Journey's End

Our last day has arrived. There is a mist over the sea, waves are crashing onto the beach and the red flag warning swimmers not to bathe. We take a taxi to the airport. The plane takes off on time at 2:30pm and we fly north west over Kuwait, Iran and Turkey. It is very arid mountainous countryside and there is snow on the higher peaks. The snow is more widespread in Turkey. We touch down at 6:30pm. It is much colder in London at 10C. Bill picks us up and, after having a cup of tea with Bill and Mary, we drive home and retire at 10pm, exhausted.

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