A Travellerspoint blog

Havelock Island, Andamans.

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With Kochi and the sanctuary behind me, I set off for The Andaman Islands with renewed excitement, a map marked “Here be Dragons”, and four new salwar kameez. A short train ride to Chennai (Madras) where I met the very charming George Bullard, who is so intrepid I should change my moniker to ‘Sara-just-popped-down-to-the-shops’. Last year, at only 19, he broke Ranulph Fiennes' world record for an unsupported trip to the arctic and this year he organised a Rickshaw Run from Nepal to Kochi for Breast Cancer Haven.

Port Blair town itself is tiny but a very interesting gateway to the tropical islands. Used by the British as a penal colony for Indian freedom fighters, Andamans has a dark history. The Cellular Jail stands on top of the hill and here the British tortured and executed Indian patriots. Right up until WWII when we were criticising Germany as invaders and oppressors we were perpetrating our own particular brand of cultural imperialism. For once, being mistaken for American I chose not to correct it.

After a couple of days exploring quaint and colonial Port Blair I took the two hour ferry ride to the hallowed beaches and jungles of Havelock. Beach 7 (Radha Nagar Beach) voted the best beach in Asia is quieter than the other beaches on Havelock Island, so that’s where I headed. The beach is quite simply and in a crashing understatement, beautiful. Cristal clear turquoise sea and talcum powder-soft white sand, “paradise” doesn’t do it justice. I am on holiday from my holiday. Somehow, and despite all my best efforts, I am getting a tan, even though I cover up and only go on the beach at 7.30am and at 4.45 to watch the sunsets, which have been breathtaking and even better than the ones in Gokarna.

I finally had my first cooking lesson. Danesh, the cook at my guesthouse (Harmony) taught me how to cook chicken curry and it really is out of this world. Make it and let me know what you think.

Posted by saraintrep 07:30 Archived in India Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Danesh’s Delicious Chicken Curry

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Danesh’s Delicious Chicken Curry. Serves 2

For the Paste:
1 medium red onion
1 ½ inch fresh ginger
5 cloves garlic
6 cloves
1 tsp cumin seeds

For the chicken:

½ chicken, cut in chunks with the bone
2 medium potatoes cut in chunks
1 medium red onion, sliced
1 tsp cumin powder
½ tsp red chilli powder
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp salt

Blend the paste in a blender adding a little water if necessary. Put all the chicken ingredients into a bowl and massage well with the hands. Heat 4 tbls of palm oil or veg oil in a stainless steel pot (if you do use palm oil please ensure that it is responsibly sourced).

Add the chicken and paste together, mix well. Add to hot oil and stir until sealed. Cover with a bowl, add a small amount of water and allow to steam for about 5-7 mins.

Remove bowl, add more water enough to just cover and simmer until the potatos are cooked. Serve with rice.

Posted by saraintrep 00:32 Archived in India Tagged food Comments (0)

Gina, An Indian Kitten

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I worked flat out upon arriving at the sanctuary. Christmas went in a blur and I was fine with that. I threw myself into sorting out the charity. Understanding exactly what Mad Dogs Trust was trying to achieve and how best to convey that. Penny and I got on well from the start, so that was all good. I loved all the animals being around, it was wonderful watching Chloe the puppy I rescued on the first day go from a frightened, shrieking scabby mess to a confident, happy puppy who loves to play with the rest of the pack.

I was looking after Gina. A tiny two week old kitten that needed round the clock feeding. I love hand rearing tiny kittens so I was in my element. She nearly died on my second day. She was cold and her heart nearly stopped. The vet gave her oral antibiotic and vitamins, we put her on a hot water-bottle and I lay with her watching for twitching whiskers that indicated breathing. Miraculously, she pulled though. From then on, screaming for her every waking hour - without being hoarse. Petulant, demanding and adorable. Despite all my efforts not to, I fell in love with her.

Those first nine went past in a blur. I realised that 31st December was the next night. I hadn’t been out in the evening once. I hadn’t met anyone to spend New Year with, let alone where. So, on the 30th I went out to a restaurant I had been to with Lucy and Michelle. There I met Daisy, Laura and xx from Wales who were only in India for three weeks. The restaurant was selling tickets for a party on Michael’s Land (an Island) the only place with music, booze and an all night licence.

I had a fabulous evening. From the boat ride over the lake, lit up by an enormous full moon, to the 40 female drummers and the surprisingly well-stocked bar. I saw 2009 out in style.

On New Year’s Day there is a huge parade through Fort Kochi with elephants and floats, music and revelry. I had woken up with a bit of a hangover, to an empty house, so Gina and I settled down to watch some TV. Penny came back from walking the dogs and we decided to treat ourselves to lunch before climbing upon to the roof to watch the parade with a glass of wine.

We were just sitting down at our table when the phone rang. It was Laura. She was at the shelter with the girls and a small puppy that had been found. We were trying to work out what was best to do for the puppy. “Just stick him inside the gates and we’ll be back soon” I said. “I would” Replied Laura “but your puppies have just killed a kitten and I am worried about this puppy”.

My blood ran cold. What kitten? Where?

I ran all the way home from the restaurant. Praying, begging for it not to be my kitten, my Gina. She had been on Penny’s bed, for once, not locked up safely in her cage. She had got out somehow and the puppies had got to her. They were playing I am sure, but Gina was so tiny, the size of my hand, that she didn’t really stand a chance. By the time I got back it was too late.

I was absolutely devastated. I had let her down, she’d trusted me and I had failed to protect her. We buried her tiny, little (unharmed) body in the garden under a tree.

I know that have been remiss in blogging since arriving back in Fort Kochi, but initially I was exhausted at the end of every day and after Gina’s death I was dreading writing this blog. However, in the days since I have been able to reflect. Volunteering was emotionally and physically draining, sometimes for the wrong reasons, but I think that I have learned lessons here that will continue to reverberate for a very long time. It took a tiny, fragile kitten to show me some of those lessons and I will always be grateful to have met her.

Posted by saraintrep 13:29 Archived in India Tagged volunteer Comments (0)

Mad Dogs - An Indian Animal Shelter

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If I had thought that volunteering at an Indian animal shelter was going to be an easy ride, my bubble was soon burst.

After arriving at 6.45am at Penny’s house, meeting the ten animals currently residing there, dumping my stuff and having a shower, I decided that there was no point going to bed, I might as well get stuck in.

Penny may regret asking me if I wanted to join her and her own dogs, two chocolate Dalmatians, Monty and Wooster for their morning walk. We went along the beach and through some of Fort Kochi; suddenly the morning peace was pierced by screaming. A little brown puppy was cowering under a rickshaw for safety. Having seen Monty and Wooster coming round the corner she had exploded with fear. On inspection the reason was clear, she had two, luckily, superficial puncture wounds – bite marks, luckier still (especially for her) I had just rescued my first puppy!

Her fur was covered in dead flea cases and she also had a touch of mange. My first official job (after trying not to increase the patient count) was to scrub her in flea dip. She didn’t like it, but soon realized that I was going to win and allowed her beauty treatment to continue. I was then introduced to Gina, the tiny two week-old kitten with gluey eyes. I got to feed her with a syringe and help her go to the loo.

The new vet arrived to start his first day and was soon followed by the door bell. Sonno Boy, a black dog, had been bought to the surgery because he had three maggot infested open wounds in his side and scar tissue caused by scalding from boiling water or oil. With no anesthetic Sonno Boy allowed us to clean his wounds. He was screaming but never once bared his teeth or growled. Penny had warned me that there would be at times horrendous cases and I think this was one. I had to help pin him down so that injections could be given and the cavities in his flesh could be cleaned out and filled with antibiotic powder.

Then an ‘outside’ vet came to look at Ulysses, he is in the garden because he is too terrified to come inside. He was caught on the beach with a bad foot and is extremely undernourished. Once again the huge flesh wounds between his toes were filled with maggots, which all had to be dug out and lay dying on the floor like bits of tinned spaghetti. He fitted twice under the anesthetic which was very distressing.

I spent the afternoon familiarizing myself with the workings of an Indian animal shelter. In the evenings Penny often works at the restaurant we met at, Upstairs. So I joined her for her evening shift. There were only two tables when we arrived, but it soon picked up, and I was reminded of my first job after leaving school and swearing I would never wait tables again. Actually it was quite fun and I got a drink out of it, but I thought I would collapse with exhaustion by the time I was clambering into my bed with its welcoming clean white sheets.

This is volunteering on such a real level. So much needs to be done to streamline and organise everything. There is always someone who needs a cuddle or a feed or serious treatment. Penny is quite run off her feet and what she is trying to achieve here is really necessary. So I think I was wrong, sometimes you absolutely should make a commitment whilst you are traveling.

Posted by saraintrep 13:27 Archived in India Tagged volunteer Comments (0)

Gokarna Beach, India, The World.

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Gokarna really is a paradise. So much so that I am going to stop mentioning it and urge you and everyone else never to go. I have been just as lazy here as I was in Hampi but in a different way. Hampi was just quiet and I was now ready for a bit more life. Not Goa-style trance parties but just the chance to let off a bit of steam.

I was very lucky with my choice of guesthouse, on a little farm. We have, in the last 12 days, become like a little family. Mia, from Belgium, who came here last year and befriended Krishna’s dog, Bangari (which means Girl). This year Bangari sealed their friendship by having her litter of six puppies on Mia’s bed. The puppies’ eyes are nearly open and we have watched their enchanting story unfold daily. Life is tough for an Indian dog and these little ones have had a better start than most.

Anna and Denis, my Russian friends, have been travelling for a year and a half. They have a huge Enfield motorbike that they have conquered India on. Sven, from Germany, has been to India many times and at 31 decided that he needed just one more trip before settling down to a serious life. Dave, the American who I don’t think will ever stop travelling. Robin, also from Germany, who went back to make a romantic fresh start with his girlfriend after travelling for one year. The Croatians, Tony and Hrvoyer, who don’t stay here but never seem to leave. Krishna and Guru work endlessly providing us with sustenance and removing bugs from rooms etc. And so on. We swim and eat, smoke and chat. And in the evenings we listen to tinny music on laptops and drink rum.

Black Moon (the opposite of full moon) is a big deal in Gokarna. A large chariot is pulled through the main street by barefoot villagers chanting and clapping. As the chariot passes by houses and shops women cover their heads, bowed in prayer and normal activity stops momentarily. Traditionally the chariot stops at certain important houses for some sort of blessing. Afterwards the very holy statue of Shiva is carried back to the temple and again important families come out of their houses and the priest gives them holy fire from a lantern which is then taken in to the house.

Mia’s friend, Wanda, an English woman, who, after visiting India for many years decided to settle in Gokarna about seven years ago, invited us to a party she was throwing to celebrate black moon. We arrived first and Wanda still had a lot to organise, not least a colourful rangoli for the road outside. A tomato sauce was needed and I eagerly volunteered. “How do I turn this on without killing myself?” was my question on looking at the precarious gas cylinder. It was a good question because, when a few moments later I was faced with my first ever chip pan fire (right next to flammable curtains and everything) I somehow managed to act calmly and turn off the gas and extinguish the fire. Apparently I was so calm no-one else in the house thought it was necessary to panic. I shook violently for about ten minutes afterwards.

The rest of my time in Gokarna passed in slow-motion from early morning swim and ‘fruit salad, muesli & curd’ breakfast. Afternoon swim, game of backgammon with Anna, we somehow managed a constant, diplomatic one-to-me, one-to-you score, visit the puppies, to Dinner and merriment.

I became quite close to Anna and Denis and knew that leaving them would be hard. Never make a commitment whilst you are travelling, I concluded swimming in the wonderful sea, gazing inland at palm trees and blue skies. Not only did they fix my computer, let me use their modem and have screenings of ‘Friends’, they turned out to be proper friends. They drove their beloved Enfield down to the train station to see me off. Dennis was helping me on to the train and to my seat when a yelp from Anna alerted us to the fact that the train was moving. He dumped my stuff and hurried off the train. I shoved my hand out of the window to grab Anna’s hand.

Taking some advice I’d received from someone to let my guard down a little, I went with my genuine emotions. Anna was crying on the platform and I, all alone on the train, with no husband by my side, was ‘weeping’...again.

P.S. I have a Freckle! on the end of my nose.

Posted by saraintrep 15:22 Archived in India Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

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