Power out in Patnem

A power cut is a great leveller here. Whether you are staying in a basic beach hut, think shed, or a boutique chichi beach hut, you get plunged into equal darkness, becoming a musical statue. The maglite or your phone may be nearby, but try finding either in pitch black.

You can hear a collective “ooh” from the diners at the beachfront restaurant as the power fails and the candles on the table come into their own, providing just enough light. 

The kitchen is well used to cooking in the absence of electricity.  The lit tandoor is fuelled by wood. The cooking rings are powered by bottled gas. 

But you can’t get a strawberry daiquiri when there’s no power as those get whipped up in the bar equivalent of a nutribullet. And they need a power source.

Sitting on the balcony, mug of tea, reading the kindle, I carry on as normal. The kindle screen is great in pitch black. Ironically, I am reading Americanah and am on a page towards the end of the book where the protagonist talks about power cuts and non functioning back-up generators in her block in Lagos. I know where the maglite is, but I have no need to use it. I have no need for my own mini back up solution. I am enjoying the dark, even if punctured by the kindle light spill.

Pitch black above softens slightly and after a few minutes of eye adjustment, the faint outline of palm fronds can be detected against the black sky. And there is one star or planet visible. Could it be Venus, apparently visible in the last few days? I will never know.

The waves sound louder as they hit the shore. 

Five minutes or so later and the power is restored. 

Damn. I quite liked the dark. 

And, there’s another one early next evening. Experience tells me to take a shower while it’s still light as there is some natural light spill into the bathroom. No hair straightening for my frightful beach hair. But clean, I head to the bar for a strawberry daiquiri sundowner just as the sun reaches its last few minutes.

Damn and double damn. No power. No strawberry daiquiris: a sundowner pot of tea it must be.

The Hell journey to reach Beach Paradise

It starts off so easily and optimistically. The painful dental infection has been checked, antibiotics prescribed and the dentist is not concerned about my impending air travel.  Friends and colleagues who claim better knowledge of such things  than any dentist have been telling me that my face will all but explode through pain as the cabin pressure kicks in.

A very quick minicab journey to my very local London City Airport and I should be airborne 90 minutes after leaving the house.

And we would have been airborne had not the runway lights failed, causing a 40 minute delay on  board. It is just one  of the vicissitudes of travel.

Do I see my house as we ascend steeply, elevating, over East London? Maybe, maybe not. The view is cool though, snippets of East London and the Thames as we head towards Southend.

There is plenty of time still to make the next flight at Frankfurt, even though the distance from.the city fleet aircraft terminal is 1.5Km to reach Gate C in the other terminal. Ground services have failed to arrange my  airport  assistance and the staff at Frankfurt International Airport wearing the red “May I help you?” badges fail. Curses on you. I do not know the collective noun for a grinch, but you are all worthy of the title.

Finally, at Gate C, apologies all round and the final short part of the transfer is in a golf cart. Bag Lady expects serious pain to be exacerbated during the flight as a result of this fail.  Frankfurt International will never be a travel option again. The return trip is via Munich, a modern compact airport.

But Lufthansa on board makes up for the Frankfurt Airport nonsense. Their aircrew is always professional, courteous and very human. And all in all, quite a smooth  flight, with a movie diversion from Absolutely Fabulous, total cheese but perfect in-flight entertainment with lots of celebrity cameos, product placement  (how much did Anya Hindmarch  pay for Eddie to carry all those handbags?) and a few laugh out loud moments. 

Masala tea is a post-lunch option, a nice nod from the airline to the flight destination. 

Bombay.

Arrivals duty free reminds us of the destination just in case long flights and time travel have caused memory lapses..

There is then another flight to catch, then a 90km taxi journey. Then a few hours dozing on a sun lounger before sunset strawberry daiquiris 

and then more strawberry daiquiris at dinner in the next village..

Ad  then, a good night’s sleep for Christmas day on the beach

The perfect strawberry daiquiri at sunset or later

Roll up, roll up. This is a challenge and a half. They are all good, all three, almost neck and neck, but I have to make a decision and pick one out, probably by, er, necking a few more of them down.

Something a bit Alice about this challenge. Drink me. Drink me.

Every day, I see the man on the beach who sells trays of strawberries, walking from beach shack to beach shack, selling to the kitchen staff and to those in charge of the cocktails.  Occasionally, sun worshippers, often strawberry pink themselves, respond to the passing call of ‘strawberries, strawberries’ and buy a box to enjoy at their sunbed. Me, I wait.

I wait until sunset approaches. It wouldn’t be decent any earlier. As part of the preparation, a decision has to be taken from a sunbed, whether to stay and slink up to a table at that shack just ahead of the sunset, predicting the time when it will not be too late to get a table facing right out to sea and the sunset, or whether to go elsewhere, not knowing how many other people have decided to go there too. Tough holiday decisions, I know.

The classic sunset choice has to be Boom Shankar at Colomb Bay, a ten minute stroll along the beach from Patnem, not allowing for distractions en route. There is a bit of a stampede for the tables overlooking the bay as the sunset view is one of the better sunset views on this planet, even without a strawberry daiquiri to mark it. But timing is all and it’s a bit uncool to be the first there. But you don’t really want to be sitting further back as you just don’t get the full panorama. There’s a happy hour too – I think you get a 20 rupee saving per cocktail. Not much to write home about, but an approximately 15% discount does equate to one free in eight, far better than a Cafe Nero coffee loyalty card. Boom Shankar, the undisputed original purveyor of the strawberry daiquiri in the area. A frozen cocktail, served, overfilled, in an old fashioned glass – you have to make a quick start on it before the overfill starts to melt and soaks the tablecloth. It is difficult not to make a quick start though. Rich in crushed strawberry content, I used to think this was the best in the world, easily beating a Manhattan bar’s offering at almost ten times the cost. But it is a bit like a grown up slush puppy, a bit on the sugary side, fairly light on the white rum taste. The view is unsurpassable though, more so  if there are a couple of local kids having fun and messing about in a rowing boat on the bay when the sun sinks to its final levels.

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The second strawberry daiquiri in my top three is from Tantra, a Patnem institution with welcoming staff and, in the style of Cheers, a bar where everyone knows your name. I am not sure how they know my name, but they do. Definitely like being in your local, even if the view and setting is a million miles away from any local hostelry in this city. Served in a large tulip shaped stemmed glass, packed with strawberry purée and any strawberry lumps which have got stuck in the chopping blades of the blender, there is a good acidic kick from the squeezed limes too. An underlying taste of white rum finishes this one off nicely. You sometimes get a strawberry pushed onto the rim of the glass, not quite as often though later in the evening. I think they get so busy that they forget. Occasionally, depending upon the number of tulip shaped glasses already in use, it’s served in a highball glass. The combination of the sharp limes and the rich strawberry content make this one feel like a health drink, not at all sweet as far as cocktails go, and it is rude not to have a second. I don’t think I’ve ever had one of these as a sundowner though – it tends to be a gin and tonic or a beer as it would feel a bit too Del Boy to have a cocktail there that early! No photos of a strawberry daiquiri here though as it’s always a later evening drink, just a sunset view of the local lifeguard hard at work and a boat watching the sunset.

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For beauty and looks, head to April 20. A fine strawberry daiquiri, the most expensive of the trio, served in a classic cocktail glass, always with a large whole strawberry set into the rim of the glass. Elegance in a glass.  This is one to contemplate before sipping. No rustic lumps of strawberry left behind in the purée, a good balance of flavours and a high rum content too. Not overly sweet, but missing the contrast of the sharpness of the limes marks it down just a notch from Tantra’s offering. Again, it is difficult not to have a second. This one feels wholly appropriate at sunset, an upmarket restaurant feel rather than a beach shack, looking out across the beach, maybe an on the hoof football kick about taking place, a standoff of local dogs seeing who can bark the loudest or a show-off doing some beach yoga poses or a bit of juggling. And, occasionally, a sunset to die for, not perhaps quite as breath taking scenery as that from Boom Shankar.

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So, there are winners all round. Boom Shankar for the setting, Tantra for the taste, and April 20 for the presentation and style. And they do all taste fabulous in their different ways.

I may think about tasting some others next visit, purely in the interests of my research.

Bagging a tiger (Or, with apologies to Michael Rosen, We’re Going On A Tiger Hunt)

Well, no one expected it to be easy. These big cats are just about as rare as hens’ teeth, even if recently published statistics show a very slight increase in their numbers throughout India.

It is probably not the best time of year for tiger spotting, nor quite the best place either, and the thought of a week or two’s sunshine and lazing on a Goan beach helps push the tiger mission towards the recesses of my mind. I can imagine one of those tigers rather enjoying a bit of sun basking too, perhaps not on my beach though. But the time comes to leave the beach and head out to the boonies and to keep our eyes pealed.

Driving through the Western Ghats is exciting, a mix of countryside and forest, a lot of anticipation. I am ready to shoot at any point – you don’t want to miss the opportunity. Our driver says that there are big cats in these forests, that people he knows (or knows of, more likely) have seen them. I think we are getting a tall tale. If they are inside the forest today, they are staying there firmly and avoiding straying onto the roadside. The only wildlife that we see from the car is a rabbit and I am not going to bother shooting it. To be fair, there are a few troops of monkeys along the roadside, probably trying to look cute in the hope of being thrown a few treat bananas from a passing vehicle. Otherwise we see only domesticated animals, goats, dogs, and oxen. Where are those tigers? I know they are there. Come on, just pop your head through and make yourself known so I can shoot you quickly. We give up. Well, at least until tomorrow.

Tomorrow becomes today and we are all over Hampi, driving to every corner of the temple complex, shooting away, but keeping a serious lookout for one of these big cats. Surely there must be one here? We spend all day driving and looking and, finally, in a split second, approaching sunset, I see one, not even in hiding. In the car park no less. I get a great shot.

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Having come to India to see a tiger, it seems unlikely that there will be more. But, never one to give up too easily, we watch the road on the way back  like hawks. Nothing gets past us. But no big cats. After about 4 hours, we decide to stop for a drink and, blow me down, if the little roadside café doesn’t have exactly what we had been looking for, right by the counter, guarding the Fanta. Lean and mean, staring right at me. This really is too good to be true. Another shot.

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And so, it is off to Bombay, two tigers bagged in the space of a few days. This is really a high water mark and I do not expect any more sightings, especially in the city. An early afternoon taxi safari from The Taj Mahal Palace to The Four Seasons is a bit of adventure, jolting along in stop start traffic. Unexpectedly, a big cat. There, right in the city, looking out from the parcel shelf of a car, the driver quite possibly unaware of its presence and any danger posed. A tiger in a traffic jam. I manage to shoot it from the backseat of my safari vehicle. .

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Exhausted and overcome by the sight of three big cats, three more than I was really expecting if truth be told, I know that there can be no more. I decide to shoot other things with the Nikon instead. I think that city bus destination signs will make for an interesting set of photos, but cannot get out there and shoot these (twisted ankle, feels like it has been caught in a gin trap, turns out to be fractured) but I do get a totally unexpected bonus sighting, a tiger on the windscreen of a school van, parked just outside the hotel. A final shot.

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And then, gin and tonic in hand, the fascinating news that the tiger population in India is really on the increase, up about 30% in the last three years. Way to go. But possibly why I have seen quite so many.

http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/jan/20/india-tiger-population-increases-endangered-species