The Long Road To India
October 29, 2022
In March 2020 I arrived back in the UK in a dramatic way. My Air India flight had been battered about and pushed from side to side by a hurricane sweeping across the UK. The flight across the Channel had been nerve raking to say the least and as we started to drop down preparing to land, things got a whole lot worse.
As we neared Heathrow things got so bad that the crew instructed us to take the brace position in case we crashed. At this point I found myself praying to Ganesh to please let me live as I still had a lot to do in this life.
As I sat there, my head in my arms preparing for a bumpy, if not disastrous landing, I told myself at least I was dying returning from a wonderful time in India; the place I love.
As the plane neared the runway the fierce crosswinds made the jet roll dramatically to the right. I thought the wing would hit the ground and prepared for the end. Suddenly one wheel made contact with the tarmac which made us veer off to the right. The pilot then put the left wheel on the ground, and we then veered to the left racing onto the grass at the side of the runway. Finally, the front wheel came down and we swerved back onto the tarmac, slowly coming to a halt in the wet and windy night. Immediately the oxygen masks popped down and one female Indian passenger undid her seat belt and darted to the toilet to be sick, ignoring the crews demands for her to return to her seat.
As we finally left the aircraft, an announcement was made that the airport was now closed until the hurricane passed. We were the last flight in.
As I walked, shaking uncontrollably, to passport control, I couldn’t help but notice something else on my arrival; everyone at the airport was wearing a facemask. I asked a fellow passenger what that was all about. They replied with three words: “Because of Covid”. What the hell was Covid?
And so, it began.
I don’t want to go on too much about the Covid period; we all know how difficult the two years of the pandemic were, but there is one part of it that became incredibly frustrating and depressing; and that was the long road back to India.
I love India and have done ever since my first trip there about ten years ago. India changed me, for the better and it’s my happy place. I am at my happiest when there and so I wanted nothing more than to go back.
In 2020 we could not leave the country at all, so the idea of going back to India was not an option and I got very frustrated and depressed because of this. The bleak British winter did not help that situation one bit.
2021 was even harder because we thought things were going to improve but in fact, they were worse and Covid was killing thousands all over the world.
Then the vaccines came and there was finally a light at the end of the tunnel (which has come to pass, and things are now much better now) but India was not doing well and things in that country were truly terrible.
India did start allowing people in but you had to quarantine in your hotel for two weeks. Despite that I was so desperate to return there I booked a flight with Tui which was almost immediately cancelled by the airline.
After receiving a full refund, I tried one more time and booked with Virgin through Skyscanner. But India got more and more paranoid about westerners coming to India because of Covid. E-visas were suspended, only expensive paper visas were allowed, and you needed to quarantine for two weeks on arrival which simply would not work. So, with regret, this time I cancelled and lost half my money. It was time to give up.
Eventually I booked a five-week trip to Sri Lanka, which was much easier to enter and at least it was better than not getting away at all.
Sri Lanka was ok, pretty, great nature but boring nightlife; I missed India so much.
Things have definitely started improving at home over the last 18 months. My book was published, and I have received a lot of great reviews. I ran the last of my Hippie Utsaah stalls at various festivals, including Psymera and Whirl-y-Fayre. I enjoyed loads of festivals including Goa Cream, but especially Noisily and Whirl-y-Fayre.
I also enjoyed lots of parties and spent lots of time with my lovely friends.
But finally, in 2022 it started looking like India was finally happening. But not just any trip to India; a three-to-four-month epic journey around India!
Let’s start off by talking about Steve Tremmel, because he is an important part of what is to come.
I met Steve through my Facebook group. He always made positive comments and we often chatted on that platform. One day I invited Steve to a party I was having (my Pre-Sri Lanka party), because I felt he was someone I would get on with as a good friend.
We immediately clicked when he came to the party, and we had a great time. All my friends liked him straight away and so he became part of our crew.
But there was more to our friendship; we became close. We shared the same ideals, we loved the same sort of music, we are spiritual in the same way, and we laugh together a lot. He has become a close and cherished friend.
We started attending festivals together and one festival in particular really stands out: Noisily.
At Noisily we really gelled and got really close as friends. We totally loved the festival and took a lot from it. One thing we liked were the huge Indian tents used as coffee shops and music venues. Steve had spoken to me before about wanting to change his life, become freer and run a food stall at festivals.
By the end of Noisily we had made a plan to go into business together running a business called the Hippie Kushi Tent.
The tent will be an event tent that will appear at festivals. I would sell hippie clothing and accessories, as well as stuff from India, such as handpan instruments, incense stick holders, Hindu statues and of course my books. Steve would run a food outlet selling lite vegetarian food and drink. We will also have a small acoustic stage and a DJ booth that I will DJ in.
At point of writing the website is completed, the food is selected, Steve (who is a carpenter) is building all the furniture, and I have just registered the business.
Through this year’s festivals we have collated a portfolio of people that have said they will work with us at each festival; so, everything is now falling into place for an opening in 2023.
Now, back to the subject of India. Steve is somebody that was also fundamentally changed by his time in India, and he too was desperate to return.
Despite paper visas still being in place (due to the UK government pissing off India). India’s government have now almost completely relaxed its covid restrictions; the setting was now right to plan a return to India.
We planned to travel together, for three to four months, exploring not only Goa, but many other parts of India.
And so, the road to India began.
Around July, we started planning where we wanted to go in India. I knew Rajasthan was a must, if not only because we needed to source the Maharajah tent for our new business.
I really fancied beginning the trip in Nepal. Kathmandu is a place I have always wanted to visit, and I really wanted to see the natural spectacle that is the Himalayas.
But as time went by and the financial crisis started to take hold (due to the horrible war in Ukraine, the pandemic, and our incompetent government), it became increasingly difficult to save up in time to get to Nepal when the weather was still tolerable. High bills and rising grocery prices meant I had eventually given in on Nepal and settle for a visit to Rishikesh in India in order to see those amazing mountains.
Steve, who was also struggling to save realised he could not leave for India the same time as me and would join me there in the new year.
I had also said I wanted to travel by train and bus and not plane, as I enjoy travelling across country rather than flying over it. This means some very long train journeys are on the cards. My good friend Geoff Sarbutt is the India train expert, so I contacted him for some advice on the complicated ticketing system.
The next big issue were the flights. Direct flights to say, Goa, were as much as £1300 but I knew from past experience there must be a way around this.
Steve, the fluky bastard, managed to get a special deal for a flight on BA, direct to Mumbai for £600. This spurred me on to book mine. Once it was booked, the trip would feel real.
Although the Indian consulate advises against booking your flight before you receive your visa, waiting until nearer the Christmas and New Year period would see fares skyrocket; so, I went ahead and booked.
After much searching I eventually found a flight on Etihad Airlines for just £500. The catch is there is a 14 hour layover in Abu Dabi, but for me its worth it. My plane lands in Abu Dabi at 2.30am. By the time I get through customs it will be 4am, I will then snooze until 8am before killing the other 6 hours writing my third book on my laptop, eating and drinking in the bars and Restaurants and reading a book. Check in for the second flight is 2 hours before the flight, so before I know it I will be back in the air again. Flight sorted.
Mumbai to Goa:
The next issue then is how to get from Mumbai to Goa for the Christmas and New Year celebrations.
There are now three choices: By internal flight (around £80), by train (around £18), or by the new ferry service (also around £80/£90).
Although taking the ferry along the beautiful coastline is a lovely idea, the train is by far the cheapest option (especially when travelling long term on a budget); so, the train it is.
I knew I needed to book at least my first hotel in Goa, due to visa reasons but was taken aback to how busy and full up everywhere was for the festive season.
Steve and I quickly realised we needed to fully book the period between arrival and when we leave for Rajasthan on the 5th of January, otherwise we would struggle to find a room.
Due to a lack of availability for busy periods, I have now found myself moving around a lot in that initial period (Anjuna, Arambol, Benaulim, Arambol). But at least the worry of finding accommodation in that first busy month is one less thing to worry about.
Then came the most challenging part of all: those paper visas.
A friend on Facebook had sent us all the links, so Steve and I sat down in my flat on the computer and filled in the visa form. You need to do this first to get a visa application number, in order to then book your visa appointment.
I filled in my form easily and managed to attach my photo. But when Steve went to fill in his, it crashed twice and at the end it would not allow him to attach a photo. So, we tried to take a photo of Steve against my white bedroom door. Passport photos are supposed to be a serious face (no smiling) but every time I went to take Steve’s photo, we both kept bursting into laughter and ended up falling on the bed in tears of uncontrollable hysteria. You will get used to this kind of behaviour from us two as time passes on this trip.
We got there in the end and then went onto another site to book the appointments at the India visa centre in Hounslow. On this sytem you book your appointment and on the day, turn up with all the required paper work, grab a ticket and wait to be seen. They then take your paperwork and passport, and your stamped passport will be posted back to you.
When we went to book the appointment the nearest appointment we could make was the 16th of November; only 3 weeks from my departure date. nightmare. We had no choice but to book this and I now wait with fear in my heart for that approaching appointment.
Until I have that stamped passport in my hand I will not relax and believe I am actually going.
This is what you need to do to get a visa:
Here’s the link for the visa Indianvisaonline.gov.in
Here’s the link to book an appointment https://services.vfsglobal.com/gbr/en/ind/external-interim
Here’s the link for the Air Suvidha https://www.newdelhiairport.in/airsuvidha/apho-registration
So here is the check list is to take with you:
– Appointment letter
– Visa application
– 2 x photos – Passport
– Copy of Passport
– Copy of last Indian visa (if sticker in passport
– a copy of that, if E-visa – a copy of the approval email)
– Old passport if visa in that.
– Proof of address – driving licence/council tax bill etc
Visa cost £148 each.
Fingers crossed I get mine back in time.
One difficult thing about going away for so long is missing friends. I have Steve travelling with me and a lot of friends of mine (Las and Katy for instance) are coming over for a few weeks to join us. But some friends are not, and I will miss them.
We do have things like Skype though to communicate on and I will be chronicling our adventures on Facebook and this blog, including lots of videos; so, they can follow my travels that way.
Sadly, my dear friend Louise is not coming, she is traveling with her daughter to the Caribbean, and I will miss her very much. But I will be back in three to four months, and we can all catch up then.
That time period of how long I am going for is subject to just how much money I make from my published book sales, which I will receive in January.
The Planed Route:
Previously we touched on our route plan, which we have now decided upon. It should be stated that this plan is loose and not sealed in stone; we are flexible to changing it if circumstance calls for it.
Our plan is to start in Goa, firstly Benaulim for the Christmas period. I adore this lovely quiet village that was introduced to me by Geoff Sarbutt. I love the cosy scene in the town, the aging hippies, the beautiful beach and my friends at People Bar where I will spend Christmas day.
This will be a nice quiet start to an amazing adventure.
I will then be travelling up to Anjuna and Arambol, where Steve will join me. Also, many friends including Las and Katy will fly in to celebrate New Year with a bang.
On the 5th of January we will be taking a train back to Mumbai to begin our long journey to Rajasthan. After spending a night in Mumbai, we will be exploring the Ellora Caves:
These 34 monasteries and temples, extending over more than 2 km, were dug side by side in the wall of a high basalt cliff, not far from Aurangabad, in Maharashtra. Ellora, with its uninterrupted sequence of monuments dating from A.D. 600 to 1000, brings the civilization of ancient India to life. Not only is the Ellora complex a unique artistic creation and a technological exploit but, with its sanctuaries devoted to Buddhism, Hinduism and Jainism, it illustrates the spirit of tolerance that was characteristic of ancient India.
Next stop Rajasthan:
Rajasthan abounds in objects of antiquarian interest. Early Buddhist rock inscriptions and carvings are found in caves in the southeastern district of Jhalawar; the area around Ajmer has a number of mosques and Muslim tombs, the oldest of which dates to the end of the 12th century; and Bikaner, in the northwest, has a spectacular 15th-century Jain temple. Splendid princely palaces, many elaborately decorated with wall paintings, are scattered throughout the state; the palace at Udaipur is especially notable. Those and other historic structures (e.g., temples) are often within several historic Rajput hill forts, six of which—including those at Chittaurgarh, Jaipur, Jaisalmer, and Jhalawar—were collectively designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2013.
We will also be talking to manufacturers of our Maharajah tent here for our new Hippie Kushi Tent business.
After extensively exploring Rajasthan, we will be taking a train to Rishikesh:
Set against the backdrop of the Himalayas and with the pristine Ganga flowing through it, the ancient town of Rishikesh is one of the major tourist and pilgrimage hubs in northern India, where people from across the world arrive in search of peace. Rishikesh is commonly referred to as the ‘yoga capital of the world’ and rightly so. The destination is abuzz with visitors, who come here to learn yoga and meditation. Rishikesh has numerous ashrams, some of which are internationally recognised as centres of philosophical studies, yoga and other ancient Indian traditions of wellness. The Uttarakhand Tourism Development Board organises the annual International Yog Festival (IYF) here, which attracts thousands of yoga enthusiasts. There are several legends associated with Rishikesh. It is said Rishikesh finds a mention in the ancient text Skanda Purana, and in the epic Ramayana. It is said Lord Rama, along with his brothers, came to Rishikesh to do penance after killing Ravana.
Rishikesh is also known for its connection with The Beatles. In February 1968, members of the legendary English rock band visited Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s ashram (now popularly known as the Beatles Ashram) to learn transcendental meditation. The band composed nearly 48 songs during their time at the Maharishi’s ashram, many of which appear on the White Album (and a few from Abbey Road). John Lennon recorded a song titled, ‘The Happy Rishikesh Song’ after his visit. Several other international artists, including Mike Love of the Beach Boys, Paul Horn, Donovan and Gyp Mills, visited the site to contemplate and meditate.
Rishikesh is also a town of quaint cafes, which offer local and international cuisines and are mostly packed with tourists. Interestingly, in the last couple of years, Rishikesh has become very popular for its vibrant Holi celebrations, mostly organised by private hotels and resorts.
Steve and I also want to explore the Himalaya here and perhaps study meditation and yoga.
Rishikesh to Pondicherry is a long way, so, after this we will take a train to Delhi. After exploring the city, we will take an internal flight to Pondicherry:
Blossoming bougainvilleas, crumbling cathedrals on leafy boulevards and 18th-century colonial buildings colour the former French colony of Pondy, which sits on the Bay of Bengal. But it’s also unmistakably Indian, with colourful festivals throughout the year, several mosques and the Sri Aurobindo Ashram. Quiet beaches stretch north and south from town, good for swimming and sunrise strolls. Pondy is a popular weekend getaway destination from Chennai and is easy to navigate on foot or by bicycle.
Also, near Pondicherry is the famous Auroville community. Steve has already visited the alternative community, but I have not and so we both want to visit this incredible place:
Auroville, sometimes referred to as “The City of Dawn” is conceived for 50,000 inhabitants from around the world. At the centre stands the Matrimandir, the “soul of the city”, a place for individual silent concentration, in an oval shaped Peace Area surrounded by a lake. Radiating out beyond the lake are four Zones – the Industrial (north), Cultural (northeast), Residential (south/southwest) and International (west) – each focusing on an important aspect of the town’s life. Surrounding the township will be a Green Belt consisting of forested areas, farms and sanctuaries.
After Auroville we will be travelling down to Kerala, a place I have always wanted to visit. Initially Steve wants us to stay with a family in a home-stay. He did this before and really enjoyed it. This is a great way to get to know the locals and their way of life.
After this we will book a boat cruise along Kerala’s famous back waters. I love boat rides, especially those that include some amazing nature and wildlife.
Kerala is blessed with its scenic beauty wrapped with green nature. Periyar National Park in Kerela is famous for its gorgeousness, greenery and stillness, the park is the dwelling place of abundant significant species, including the royal tigers and majestic elephants apart from other reptiles, fishes and birds. Kumarakom is a cluster of little islands on the Vembanad Lake. A short drive will take us to the Alleppey jetty point where we can board our HouseBoat for an overnight experience on Kerala backwaters that have been known for their mesmerizing and alluring charms spread across the whole area and finally unwinding in Mararior Mararikulam Beach to relax and enjoy the serene beaches.
By this time, we would have come full circle and will make our way back to Goa. We will travel the entire state from Palolem in the south to Arambol in the north and that for me is when one of the best bits happens.
When we finally get back to Arambol, Steve and I will be renting an old Portuguese house for the duration of our last month in India.
We will then relax into a lovely routine of enjoying the beaches and bars, the markets, the live music and the clubs. I will write my third book (already started) based on our adventures in India and the characters we meet along the way.
We will rent some motor scooters and travel about, visiting temples, waterfalls and game reserves; we will live in Hippie Kushi bliss.
My flight leaves on the 6th of December (visa whiling). When I leave, I will be posting every day on my Hippie Kushi Facebook page as well as in this blog (including video vlogs), so you can come with us along the way.
As I have said, my third book: ‘The Adventures of Two Old Hippies in India’ will be all about this incredible journey; I hope you will read it when it comes out.
The adventure is finally on! The last hurdles being the visa appointment and getting my stamped passport back in time.
I hope you will follow us on our adventures. Here’s how the book will begin:
Over the last decade a strong new hippie scene has been growing all over the world, a brotherhood of like-minded souls seeking a better way.
When the world is in a mess, souls of light seek peace and love.
I find the hippie vibe especially strong in India, which has significant hippie communities in places like Anjuna and Arambol in Goa.
I would describe myself as an old hippie too. I embrace it, I love it, and most of all I love India.
India is a very special place; it holds a kind of mysticism and an overwhelming sense of spirituality; it is in the very air you breath, it’s a feeling, an energy. Oh, what adventures I have had there over the years and what characters I have met. Beautiful eccentric creatures who brighten up the world. I wonder with joy, what adventures are yet to come?
This is the story of my adventures all around India, and the characters I have and will meet along the way, characters that form the eccentric expat and local communities of that wonderful country.
Our journey begins and ends in my beloved Goa, but we will have some crazy adventures along the way.
We will take you to the chaos of Mumbai and then the beauty of the Ellora Caves. We will ride on the madness that is the Indian railways. Arriving in amazing Rajasthan, with its incredible temples. We will meditate at Ashrams in Rishikesh before travelling long distance to magical Pondicherry and the mystical Auroville. We will ride the waterways of Kerala before exploring the whole of Goa state.
I want to take you with us on this crazy, funny, mind exploding journey through this wonderful and welcoming continent, so let’s go!