Summer ’17

The summer holidays are well underway and the children are used to their new daily routines without school, breakfast is a also a little later now which we must admit we’re enjoying and there’s lots of spring cleaning going on in the bedrooms!

The days seem a lot longer and we’re trying to think of different activities we can do each day to keep the kids entertained. Something we hadn’t thought of until now was downloading a film on our IPad. We bought some popcorn and arranged two screenings of our makeshift movie day, one for the girls and one for the boys. “Happy Feet” was our film of choice and first up was the boys. As they all crowded round to watch the small screen they were super excited for an English cartoon movie, we couldn’t believe how they all managed to slot themselves into positions to be able to see. We were buried in amongst them and after just 15 minutes we were literally melting due to the heat. We didn’t dare move though as the boys were all so comfortable and enjoying the film, laughing so much their stomachs were hurting!

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As always the girls were a lot more organised and balanced the iPad on a chair that they could all sit around to see. Their reactions to the film was much different to the boys and they loved the cute baby penguins and love story going on, some tears were even shed at the emotional scenes! Next time we return to Our Home we will come equipped with more movies for them, we really enjoy giving them some new experiences, and when it’s 40 degrees outside with no water, there’s not much else for them to do!

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The hot topic for this week was the upcoming “Tour” to Kannur Beach. We decided to take the kids on a day trip to the beach and hired a big tourist bus for the 7th April. Leading up to the day they couldn’t stop planning, from what they were going to wear, what time they were waking up and who they were going to sit next to on the bus. When it finally came around the day itself was incredible, we made the most beautiful memories and being many of the kids’ first time to the beach it was also really emotional.

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The next big day, 10th April, soon approached which was when the children were getting their exam results and I think we were more anxious than them! We woke up early that morning and went down to the school and were greeted with The BEST news ever. The longs days teaching and evenings spent on one to one homework classes have paid off as every single child at Our Home Community passed their exams and are moving up to their next year studying. Previously children have been held back one if not two years for not passing their exams. Surya was particularly overjoyed having been one of the children held back, he has now finished with the highest marks in his class! The smiles say it all and we’re so proud of all of the girls and boys for working so hard with us.

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This week Our Home had a group of German volunteers visiting and unfortunately this meant we had to vacate our little bedroom so they could all stay together. However, this did mean that we could stay in a local hotel only a short walk away from Our Home and to be honest the AC and warm water was a welcome change! We also used the opportunity to give the boys and girls some little day trips and took a few of them each day during our stay to explore the hotel grounds, order some french fries, fresh juice and relax in a different environment for a few hours.

As our time at Our Home is coming to an end we’re making the most of every single second with the children. Its been another two weeks that have flown passed, filled with emotion, joy, day trips and certainly one of the best school summer holidays for us too!

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A weekend in Ooty

Ooty, known as Queen of the Hills is famous for its cooler weather and beautiful views. We’ve visited twice and both of our trips have been a unique experience for us as we have friends there who warmly welcome us into there home. This meant a break from Trip Advisor reviews for the best hotel deals and instead we could focus on the really important stuff … exploring!

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We recently stayed in Ooty during the Easter weekend so it was significantly busier than usual but what a wonderful weekend it was. First stop was Ooty Lake as we took a tuk tuk through the hills on a sprightly sunny day towards the still waters.

We hired a pedal boat for an hour and once pulling away from the first time boaters and upon reaching the far end of the lake we felt an overwhelming sense of serenity as we took in the beautiful views. The only thing missing was a cool beer to go with that sea breeze, or lake breeze as it were in this case. It is 160 rupees for a 2 seater boat for 30 minutes, you’re also required to leave a depsosit, which you can claim back if you’re within your time.

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The whole area around the lake is full of great little food stalls and you can’t visit without stopping for a spring potato. Although the shops and stalls detract from what the lake once was it is still kept clean and in good taste, and we actually quite enjoyed the holidaymaker feel it has to it.

The Botanical Gardens were next on our list of places to visit however they were full of picnic goers. There was little room to sit and relax until getting to the high end of the hills so we would recommend going at a less busy time than Easter weekend! This wasn’t a problem for us though as we enjoyed strolling through this picture of natural beauty.

Dodbetta view point is situated just outside of Ooty but was recommended to us as a must see so we gave it a go. Travelling up through the mountains we bumped into a giant wild dear crossing the road. The tuk tuk driver screamed at us to take a photo as they are extremely rare to see in Ooty but unfortunately the best we got was strictly rear end focussed!

Once again the downside to our experience was the sheer number of tourists taking a break from their busy lives during the Easter weekend. After walking through a parade of stalls selling everything from hats and scarves to permanent tattoos we reached the summit. The view itself was good but not great and unfortunately there was just far too much litter scattered around. We’re sure this place is usually kept neat and litter free but the volume of people meant the authorities could not enforce rules as usual. We would still recommend you visit it if you have time but try a weekday instead!

If you want to know the real Ooty we would suggest taking a walk into the town, meeting the people and exploring the homemade chocolate shops. Being much cooler than most places in India you can enjoy a stroll through the streets without the hassle of the unrelenting heat.

Back in 2015 during our first trip we also took a ride on the Toy Train. If you have time we would definitely recommend it, the slow speed and gorgeous views really allow you some time to relax, however make sure you book tickets in advance as the train gets full pretty quickly. Somewhere else we were lucky enough to have dinner at was The Ooty Club, rumour has it that this is where snooker was first invented! When you step into the club it is like going back in time and you are completely in awe everywhere you look. Unfortunately you can only enter with a member so if you want to visit, we suggest you make some very good friends!

We love Ooty for its climate and uniqueness. Although situated in the heart of India the heritage of once being ruled by the British East India Company is still evident to its core and that blend of British/India is balanced just right in this uniquely mountainous town.

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9 Top Tips on Volunteering

We’ve volunteered in five different countries and have a huge passion for travel, charity work and most importantly; change. We’ve therefore combined some top tips and experiences from our fellow travellers and volunteers to help you when planning your volunteering trip. Sometimes it’s difficult to know where to start, who to trust and where to go so hopefully this will answer some of your questions.

1) Rox Oquendo; Former Director of Hands on Manila

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“You don’t always have to donate money to make a difference in small communities, your time can be much more beneficial. Contact NGO’s in the Philippines to find out how you can get involved with their ongoing programmes. If you have any special skills you think may be of benefit, for example if you’re a medical practitioner then make the NGO you are volunteering with aware, you may be able to help with specialist missions. By volunteering you’re exposed to the real Philippines and get to explore places off the beaten track.”

Our first volunteering experience abroad was with Hands on Manila and we can’t recommend them enough!

2) Skye Sandhu-Nelson; Community Champion

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“Each person has their own reasons to give or volunteer and you’ve got to have an affinity to the cause your supporting which will be unique to each individual. This needs to be taken into consideration before deciding on where is right for you to volunteer.”

Skye is an incredibly experienced volunteer and as has supported the YMCA, Salvation Army, The Citizens Advice Bureau, local schools and play groups, Womankind Worldwide and many more.

3) Emily Hudson; Explorer

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“All I would say is get stuck in as any little job goes a long way, get to know the locals, learn their ways and work with them to help your cause. Don’t forget to keep in touch even after your time volunteering has come to an end. It’s such a buzz to get updates and see how things are progressing when you’re back home. Also, do some research on how you can continue to support your project from home through online tasks and spreading the word.”

Emily volunteered at The African Impact, Marine Conservation Project in Zanzibar, Tanzania.

4) Sam Rees-Davies; Backpacking Biker

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We met Sam in February 2017 on our first day returning to Our Home Community. Unfortunately it was their last night volunteering there but although we had very little time together we instantly knew we shared the same passion about Our Home.

“Our first and most important tip when volunteering is always plan your route before you set off on your journey. Initially getting to Our Home seemed impossible as we were travelling by bike from Ooty with nothing but road signs! When we finally arrived we were mobbed by so many excitable children. One of the most refreshing things when you speak to anyone at Our Home is that they never refer to it as an orphanage, it is quite literally their home. The sense of community and family is breathtaking. Never have I seen so many children with such a zest for life, and if you need inspiration to volunteer, this is it!

We spent our days playing football, painting, cooking and also took the children on a trip to the local dam. Reflecting on my time at Our Home my biggest advice is get involved as much as you can and think of something new to introduce, cooking macaroni cheese was certainly a first time experience for these Indian kids and it was great I could give them that.”

5) Chloe Leach; Backpacker

“If I was to give any suggestions to someone wanting to volunteer abroad I’d say first and foremost – do your research. There are a lot of ‘volunteer projects’ that are scams, especially in SE Asia. They take your money and it doesn’t go to benefiting the cause they ‘stand for’. Please ensure you look for ethical projects.

I’d also say, GET STUCK IN. You’ll probably be given some tasks that aren’t as enjoyable as others. However, it is what you make it and at the end of the day you’re there volunteering to benefit the lives of others and not yourself.”

Chloe has volunteered at SchoolsWorldwide, a charity that runs volunteer trips through schools in Namibia, and Elephant Nature Park in Thailand where we also had a fantastic experience.

6) Sofia Candy; Backpacker

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Sofia volunteered with the Soi Dog Foundation, Thailand in 2015 and has incredibly now adopted Sansa, a dog they fell in love with during their time there. Sansa has been living in the U.K. for almost a year and is loving her new family life.

“If you wish to volunteer at Soi Dog make sure you contact them in advance to arrange your dates as they get booked up quickly during busy seasons. Take some dog treats with you in a bum bag for when you walk the dogs, they love a treat! Wear comfy shoes and clothes you don’t mind getting dirty and smelly … Hanging out with the dogs and cats all day can get messy but it’s an amazing experience and you’ll hear lots of stories about how these animals were saved from torture and cruelty. It’s a fab life experience you will never forget.”

7) Thuy An; Community Outreach Coordinator; YMCA Vietnam

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“Vietnam is a great place to volunteer and have a life changing experience. To make sure you have the most enjoyable time possible and not too much of a culture shock, this is what I would recommend:

  • First and foremost make sure you participate in a voluntary experience that will excite you. This way you will be able to put 100% into everything you too.
  • When planning to volunteer make sure you obtain necessary visas and documents required before you arrive to avoid any problems.
  • Be prepared to eat all kinds of food in Vietnam … the infamous durian and fish sauce is typical for daily meals, if you’re a picky eater or dislike smelly food Vietnam might not be the place for you!
  • Most Vietnamese people are nice and friendly but always be aware of scams and rip-offs when shopping in local or tourist markets.
  • Don’t get run over by a car! The traffic is crazy. When crossing the streets be alert, confident and steady.
  • Lastly, equip yourself with some local knowledge about wherever you go. The Vietnamese people will love that you’ve taken the time to get to know their culture.

Thuy An organised our brilliant voluntary trip with YMCA Vietnam in 2015.

8) Swostik Pandey; Student and Entrepreneur

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“Whilst volunteering in Vietnam I often found myself being so thankful for the opportunity to give back. My main advice for volunteering abroad is to be as passionate as possible. Most people only volunteer once or twice in their lifetime so give it all you have and make sure you don’t forget to embrace the culture. Not only does this teach you about the local people, food and lifestyle of where you are volunteering but it also makes you appreciate everything you have in life. My second tip would be to be outgoing. Being able to create memories is great but always remember the people around you are the ones who help form those memories. Whether it is sharing a smile or attempting to speak an unknown language, every little thing will go a very long way!”

We volunteered with Swostik in 2015 as part of the YMCA Vietnam Overseas Community Project.

9) KHTravels; Blogging & Volunteering Couple 

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Our ultimate tip would be to prepare yourself for the hardships that go alongside the incredible experience you will have whilst volunteering. Volunteering isn’t easy and can be a very emotional journey.

Your accommodation will be very basic with no luxuries; uncomfortable beds, no fans, mosquito bites, squat toilets, hand washing clothes, no TV and no wifi! Culture shock can also be daunting and you’re often in remote communities that may not have seen foreigners before so expect a mixture of responses. These are the first things to come to terms with and the rest will fall into place. We of course do not want to deter your from volunteering but you need to be aware of what you’re letting yourself in for and if this doesn’t put you off, then you’re ready to go!

So there you have it, from some of our most trusted friends from around the world, we hope you’ll find their suggestions and advice helpful. If you still have any unanswered questions then please get in touch.

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A weekend in Mysore

Mysore is one of those places in India where you just feel welcome. Let’s not forget that India isn’t for everyone but there is a slight chance that Mysore might just be. Being voted the cleanest Indian city for two years in a row definitely has something to do with that!

Where to stay:

We’ve stayed at Hotel Aditya a few times now and we’re never let down. The location is perfect as it is within walking distance of the Mysore Palace and Devaraja Market while also being opposite More. More is like finding a needle in a haystack in India as it’s a supermarket that sells beer! Hotel Aditya is a 10 minute tuctuc ride from the KSRTC bus station which makes coming and going very easy. The staff are helpful, the rooms are decent for a reasonable price and they have cable TV, wifi, and free breakfast! Just what you need if you’ve been backpacking in hostels.

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What to do:

If you want to see India in all of its glory then Devaraja Market is the place to be. From Holi paints and flowers to gem stones and exotic oils, you can find virtually anything at this market once you’ve shifted through the furore of people, cows, dogs and stalls outside, a great place to get those insta pics.

Chamundi Hill is a great spot to get a view of the whole city, especially at sunset or sunrise. The sunlight reflects across the whole city and it feels like you’re sitting on the edge of Pride Rock. Take the 201 bus to the peak and for a few extra rupees we suggest you wait it out for the air con bus which is a lot less busy and much more comfortable. Once reaching the top follow the steps to find yourself a secluded spot and the view will speak for itself.

If you have some spare time the Mysore sand museum is a good place to visit with some awesome sculptures for only 40 rupees per person. It’s located just a few minutes’ drive from the Mall of Mysore and features some amazing artworks based on religion, history and Disney!

The Mall of Mysore is a basic mall, but offers some tasty treats, a good supermarket and a cinema with English movies.

Finally, Mysore Palace is what you visit this city for, built in 1912 it is incredibly well maintained and attracts six million people a year. If you want to get the full experience make sure you explore the inside of the palace to experience life as a Maharaja in India. If you’re just there to get some snaps then avoid paying the full entrance fee and wander the grounds leisurely with a picnic but we wouldn’t recommend going in the middle of the day unless you want to remember your experience with some semi-permanent sunburn! Everyday except Sundays the Palace holds a sound and light programme between 7pm & 8pm where you can see the palace illuminated in all its glory.

Where to eat:

Having been in India for over three months were always on the lookout for our next western meal so hearing of a dominos, KFC and McDonald’s was music to our ears. We know this isn’t the most cultural thing to do but what says India more than a Maharaja Mac?!

There is also a great little pizza place by the name of Sadananda’s Wood Fired Pizza within walking distance of Hotel Aditya. It doesn’t look the busiest or the most appealing place to eat but looks can be deceiving and we can’t recommend this place highly enough.

Mysore is a wonderful Indian city with some much needed home comforts. If you just come along for the palace and a Maharaja Mac it will be a day well spent but as with the rest of India there’s something special about this city with plenty to see and do.

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Volunteering isn’t easy

Something we’ve seen with lots of bloggers and are guilty of ourselves is only sharing the good parts of volunteering… Those unforgettable moments or cute selfies with the kids.

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The truth is volunteering isn’t easy and can be really tough. Of course the good bits are incredible and it’s natural to share these moments with family and friends but you tend to keep the bad bits to yourself, it’s easier that way. It’s hard to explain but you feel if you share your negative experiences that you are letting yourself down.

We’ve volunteered several times internationally and each experience has had its difficulties. We’ve decided to share some of our hard days with you and how we’ve overcome them. If you’re considering volunteering abroad it’s good to know what you’re letting yourself in for!

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Firstly prepare yourself for very basic accommodation with no luxuries; uncomfortable beds, little sleep, no fans or AC, mosquito bites, squat toilets, hand washing clothes, no TV and no wifi! Culture shock can also be a little daunting, when volunteering you’re often in remote communities that may not have seen foreigners before so make sure you do plenty of research into local customs before your arrival. These are the first things to come to terms with and the rest will fall into place.

In Vietnam and Cambodia we experienced extreme language barriers. We struggled enormously, particularly in Cambodia where the children were not very well behaved. Teaching classes of 30+ students that do not even understand ‘sit down’ was frankly a nightmare! We quickly realised we couldn’t improvise and had to spend time planning for each class. Using pictures was very helpful so we spent the nights hand drawing in preparation for the next day. Action songs are also great to keep the small children occupied whilst engaging them in learning English. One thing for sure is don’t assume the children will know basic English, especially in the poorer communities because… they don’t! There will also be very few facilities so pack what teaching materials you can as it will make your life a lot easier.

In the Philippines we experienced extreme poverty. On the daily commute to our volunteer placement we saw so many street children that we wanted to help, but what could we do? We couldn’t just walk past and found giving the children food was a great way to help. We often bought snacks for them to eat and always took away any food we had left over in restaurants to give out. Also after days of deliberating we started talking to them. They are children after all and much of their day is spent begging or sitting on the streets bored. Taking the time to chat and play simple games we soon had them laughing and although the simplest thing, a smile sometimes makes everything feel better.

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We’re currently at Our Home Community Orphanage in India. It’s our third time volunteering here but this time we are spending almost three months living at the orphanage. It has exposed us to their everyday life and the real struggles they face each day that you just wouldn’t know about from visiting for a few days.

The days are long and hot, especially now it is the summer holidays. The children wake up very early, some at 4:45am and do not sleep until after 10pm. Previously we worked in London and without our daily commutes and working hours we realise how much time there is in a day. With limited resources there is only so much you can do and quite often we find ourselves looking for something new to do with the kids but without the energy to do it because of the heat.

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Being with children 24/7 is also pretty tough. Don’t get us wrong, we absolutely adore them but anyone with or around children at home will know this themselves, sometimes you need a break especially when it’s 42 kids you’re trying to occupy! We have found ourselves missing adult company, family, friends and ‘normal’ things that we do at home. It’s a huge lifestyle change that we’ve had to adjust too.

The lack of water in Wayanad at the moment is a big problem, being here in the height of summer means extreme water rationing. We are experiencing a drought and often have not had water for two or three days so no flushing the toilet after a number two, no showers after sweating all day … there’s nothing worse right? Wrong. This is the children’s drinking water so there’s us upset we can’t shower whilst the children are thirsty which makes us feel even worse. As well as the water the electricity also comes and goes as it pleases, usually at night so food cannot be prepared and dinner can be very late.

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This brings us on to money issues. Living at the orphanage we’re exposed to the day to day money stresses they endure and some days all they have to eat is boiled rice. We don’t even eat rice at home so having that as the only food option is tough and we spend nights dreaming of Pizza Hut takeouts!

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Spending so much time with the children we have formed some really strong relationships. It is only natural that they feel that they can open up to us and although we’ve never asked them questions, a few have told us about their past experiences and how they came to be at the orphanage. Sitting listening to some of the horror stories they have been through is absolutely heartbreaking and probably the hardest part of all. We’ve sat holding back the tears whilst they have opened their hearts to us. All we want to do is cuddle and protect them from ever being hurt again and take away their painful memories. These stories just play over and over in our minds and we have spent a few nights sobbing at the thought of what they have been through.

Finally, saying goodbye. Everywhere we have volunteered it’s always been tough saying an emotional goodbye to the children we’ve formed bonds with but Our Home is completely different, these children are our family. The past two times we’ve left have been hard enough, we dread to think how we’re going to leave them this time.

So how do we overcome these difficulties? We do what the children do and get on with it. You never hear them moaning “there’s no water” “I don’t want rice” “I’m bored” they are our biggest inspiration and motivation to get through the hard parts. Each day is a new start and we always find if we’ve had a bad day after a sleep we wake up feeling better and a positive attitude can change anything. Remember this when you’re feeling low because coming home is just as hard if not harder. You miss everything you hated, you find it so hard eating the pizza you wanted because you’re thinking of the children eating their rice and all of a sudden your ‘normal’ isn’t so normal anymore.

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Our biggest advice would be to enjoy every single minute of it. Volunteering is an amazing, life changing experience despite the fact it isn’t easy. Accept all of the bad parts and try to enjoy them the best you can, remember why you’re there. Don’t pretend to yourself and others that everything is always okay, it’s not and that’s what makes your journey. Express how you’re feeling and don’t bottle up those hard parts, embrace them.

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Life brings tears, smiles and memories. The tears dry, the smiles fade, but the memories last forever.

A day at the beach

07/04/17 was an incredibly magical day for us and a memory that will last forever. Whilst staying at Our Home we decided that we wanted to do a day trip with the children during their summer holidays and agreed that going to the beach was the best idea.

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We hired a tourist coach to take all of the children from Our Home to Kannur beach, about four hours away. For some of them it was their first time taking a road trip and had never before seen the sand and sea. The week leading up to the trip was full of anticipation as the kids couldn’t talk about anything else. All sorts of rumours started flying around and the girls came to us one day with worried expressions on their little faces telling us that the boys said if they swam in the sea their hair would fall out. We couldn’t help but laugh!

The day before quickly came around and the excitement was indescribable! In the evening the children packed their bags, brushed their teeth and were ready for bed nice and early, although we doubt they got much sleep! The journey started at 4:30am and we were hoping to get a few more zzz’s on the coach but there was no chance of that. As soon as we’d boarded the music was on, the disco lights were flashing and the kids were going crazy! It was amazing to see how much energy they had and how happy they were at the start of the day.

45 minutes later the partying slowed down and the travel sickness begun… when we first got on the bus the older boys handed out plastic bags. We thought this was for rubbish and considering we’re in India this was a delight to see. Very quickly we had nine children throwing up and we soon realised that this is what the bags were for. The remaining three hours were filled with a mixture of dancing, sickness and sleeping.

When we pulled up their faces were a picture and as we had hoped Kannur happened to be a beautiful and clean beach. All of a sudden it was rush rush rush, all systems go and they were all pushing to get off the bus they loved so much and never wanted to leave just minutes before. They played literally ALL day on the beach. Building sandcastles, burying each other, playing football, chasing each other and swimming. It was so emotional and overwhelming. Some of the little ones were afraid of the sea to start with but by the end of the day they didn’t want to leave and most of the boys were confident to give swimming under the waves a good go. For lunch we ate fried fish and rice and we’ve never seen them eat so fast so they could dive right back into the waters.

We left the beach by sunset to begin partying on the bus again but this time it was H who had the travel sickness. We were stuck in traffic and the journey took nearly seven hours but by midnight when we arrived home the children were all sleeping soundly with sand in their hair and smiles on their faces. A day we will cherish forever.

Happy HOLIdays

The last two weeks have been as jam packed as the others, however the school holidays have now started and we are all enjoying some time to relax, especially as the temperature is rising by the day!

IMG_0384Last weekend we had the opportunity to experience something new and very unique. There was a local movie premiere being held in the town close us, Kalpetta. Chacko and Avi, who run the Our Home, are good friends with one of the main actors so he very kindly donated tickets to all of the children. ‘Take Off’ was a Malayalam film but we were able to understand the storyline with a little help from the older boys. It was far from your typical Bollywood movie and instead focussed on real life ISIS events when a group of Indian nurses working in Iraq were stranded in the war torn city of Mosure. It was a very touching storyline that we thoroughly enjoyed, we’re keeping our fingers crossed that it does well as it’s being shown exclusively in Kerala at the moment but it has the potential to go big in India! Our first ever movie premiere was brilliant and we even got to meet some of the actors. A memory both us and the children will never forget.

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The onsite school has closed for summer now and the children all had mixed emotions. Some are excited but others are sad at the thought of not seeing their friends for two months. The last day at school was a busy one, the Science Exhibition was held as it had been postponed from its earlier date. They were all so enthusiastic to show us their inventions and we couldn’t believe some of the masterpieces the kids from local villages had created. Our favourites included real electric fans made from cardboard, batteries and tiny motors and clay volcanos complete with lava and dinosaur models! There were also awards to be given out from the sports and art days held earlier in the year and we were delighted to be asked to present these to the kids. It was a great atmosphere as all of the winners collected their medals and trophies.

We missed Holi Festival due to the exams so to celebrate the end of the school year we bought some powder paints to play with on the first day of the summer holidays. It was just as we expected having seen many photos of Holi Festival and the amount of colour was overwhelming. We ran about chasing each other with the paint for a good couple of hours and it was so fun! It was a really good activity to get both the girls and boys involved in and we were like big kids too. We got some incredible photos of the children playing and this day is such a special memory that will stay with us forever.

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Throughout India there is still a huge amount of work to be done before women will be considered equal to men. Having worked with the Asian Circle we want to do everything we can to work towards equality for women and girls of this country. An estimated three million girls are out of school in India and it’s shocking statistics like this that need to change. At Our Home the girls are treated exactly the same as the boys and they all receive the same education, Chacko and Avi are such an inspiration in the work they do with these children and we wanted to enhance that. We spent a day with the girls simply chatting about how important their education is, what they wanted to do when they grew up and motivating them that if they put their mind to it they can achieve anything their heart desires!

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Our meal this week meant an early start as we decided to change it up a bit and cook breakfast. We opted for omelette with plenty of chilli and onion served with bread bread, sweetened of course as we can’t find regular bread anywhere. This dish was an improvement on our attempt at sweet chilli noodles, and the children loved the taste … as did we!

All in all it’s been two weeks filled with a good meal, lots of laughter, celebrations and our first Indian movie premiere! There’s always something unexpected in store and that’s what we love about India.

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A weekend in Kochi

Kochi is a welcome break for most travellers in India with its European feel and abundance of restaurants to choose from, it’s definitely more that just “that place with the Chinese fishing nets”.

Where to stay:

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This was our second time visiting Kochi but unfortunately could not return to the excellent Bastian Homestay as it was fully booked. Instead, we stayed at Maison Casero homestay which was just as brilliant and if anything better. The one thing we craved most was a western breakfast so being awoken to tea, toast and eggs made to measure immediately out a smile on our face!

The rooms were very clean, had the option of AC, offered free wifi and a hot shower. You can’t really ask for more than that for £16 a night!

What to do:

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The beach is not so great and really rather dirty but you should definitely head down to Fort Kochi to see the Chinese fishing nets in action. We recommend avoiding the heat of the day and head down at sunset to enjoy the view of the sun descending into the Arabian Sea whilst the locals are bringing in their catch of the day.

Santa Cruz Basilica Church is one of Kochi’s most famous landmarks and although nice to see especially at night when it is all lit up, it wouldn’t be our top reason for going to visit however, there is something else close by that is a must see…

Kathakali is one of the main forms of classical Indian dance. A story portrayed through art, we watched a rather large man turn the whites of his eyes blood red before depicting a story of rape and death. Not the most uplifting of tales but certainly one you’ll never forget. It’s a very strange experience, but one not to be missed!

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On the bright side, if you’re after a bit of western life then Lulu Mall is the place to be. Take the airport bus from Fort Kochi directly to the mall and you get to ride through this quaint town in the comfort of air conditioning without forking out for a private car. The mall itself offers an array of shops to explore, a great cinema with English and Indian movies and best of all it’s very own answer to Nando’s; Galitos! We also experienced the best milkshake we have ever had in Bloomsbury’s cafe, which was reason enough for us to return to the mall during our second visit!

Where to eat:

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There are an abundance of great restaurants to eat in Fort Kochi. On our previous visit we headed down to The Old Harbour and despite being a bit pricey, they serve one hell of a steak! For a cheaper but equally exceptional meal take a stroll from the fishing nets to The Killians Hotel. If you’re in a pair or more we highly recommend getting one of the seafood platters, Kochi offers some of the best seafood in India and this place might just be the pick of the bunch. Despite many recommendations online, we would advice you avoid eating at the many stalls lining the beach as we found they’re often over priced and take an age to prepare your meal!

Finally, the Upstairs Italian Restaurant was like a mirage in the sun when we first visited Kochi and it was just as fantastic this time around. Seated with an open window view of Santa Basilica Church, this might be the only place in India that serves real prosciutto Ham!

So there you have it; where to stay, what to do and where to eat in Kochi. Just remember you won’t be able to claim your free whole chicken on your Nando’s card in Galito’s… it’s still india after all!

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Mumbai Tours

 

Our first experience of a Mumbai tour was in 2015 when we booked to visit the slums to see exactly where some of the ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ scenes were filmed. Although incredibly sad to see, the tour itself was a great insight into the slum life for millions of Mumbai’s citizens and certainly opened our eyes.

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Last month we returned to the Bollywood city and got in touch with Magical Mumbai. Wanting to explore the crazy city further, we booked ourselves onto a walking market tour. Our guide, Sam, was a young student from the slums working four jobs to pay for his education, he had an insane passion for life. Not only was he an interesting and informative guide but we really got along with him and now have a new friend in Mumbai.

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Having visited Mumbai before we thought we had seen it all but clearly not! The market tour visited the Crawford, Mangaldas, Kalbadevi St and CST markets and each was so different from the next. If you’re an animal lover you won’t enjoy the pet section at Crawford market but the rest of the day was fantastic, with plenty of photo opportunities, especially with Sam being an aspiring photographer! This tour is great value for money at just 800 rupees per person.

We enjoyed ourselves so much so that we organised a car city tour for the next day where we teamed up with Sam once again. If you’ve already seen a bit of Mumbai you can skip the obvious stops like the Gateway to India and get straight to the good stuff!

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Sassoon dock was incredible and being one of the oldest docks in Mumbai we highly recommend you pay this place a visit. The people are engrossed in their work, throwing buckets of fish from the boats to the dock three metres above to unloading truck loads of ice. However, we recommend you leave your flip flops behind if you’re visiting the docks unless you want fish guts between your toes!

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Dhobi Ghat was another of our highlights. The whole community works together to wash and dry millions of clothes from across the city everyday. All the machines on site are made by the people, for the people, from giant tumble dryers to heavy duty washing machines. A birds eye view of Dhobi Ghat would reflect a rainbow of colour, just as most of India but there is a method to the madness here.

Other stops on the tour included Victoria Train Station, Marine Drive and the Oval Cricket Ground where cricket was first introduced to India. The entire city tour cost 3000 rupees for two people, a luxurious AC car, our fantastic guide and some great memories!

Magical Mumbai Tours made our time in the ‘Hollywood of India’ unforgettable, don’t hesitate to get in touch with us or them if you’re visiting and have any questions!

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The Taj Mahal Palace Hotel

Luxury at its very finest in India. It was our second time in Mumbai, and although we had visited before, this time we were lucky enough to spend two nights at the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel.

On arrival we were greeted with the warmest smiles, and of course we couldn’t possibly lift a finger! Our two backpacks, two suitcases and hand luggage were all swept away from us as we were guided into reception where we were seated and didn’t even need to check ourselves in! Welcomed with a lavender necklace, lychee juice, and a good luck ritual, our passports were collected and that was all that needed to be done! The best check-in we have ever experienced.

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We had the cheapest room in the hotel yet it was still beautiful with a bouquet of roses, heart shaped balloons and a chocolate cake waiting for us on arrival. It was very traditional but with all the mod cons you needed and would expect. We loved having enough space to be able to unpack comfortably, and walk around the room … or in our case, dance! The bathroom was super luxurious and bathing was pure heaven having not had one for so long! Would you believe there’s an option to order a custom made bath with chosen oils and scents by the Taj Hotel with the price ranging from 1200 – 5500 ruppees! This was just a little over the top for us and the classic shower gel under the tap worked wonders enough!

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The hotel is so grand, and whether you’re a guest there or not it is definitely worth visiting to have a little explore and grab some great photos. A little tip is that the Sea Lounge has an event every evening called sundowners where drinks are buy one get one free between 18:30 and 20:30, no reservation is necessary but it is on a first come first serve basis and you’re also given a selection of snacks free of charge which is always a bonus!

Again with the restaurants you don’t have to be a guest to dine. On our first night we ate at Masala Kraft and were given the best table in the house next to the live chefs. However the downside was that roti was the only thing they cooked there with everything else made in the kitchen. The meal was faultless and we thoroughly enjoyed the ambience this restaurant offered. We also booked a table at Souk, a middle eastern restaurant for our second night, which is perched on the top floor of the Taj tower and offers a great view of the Gateway to India … unfortunately for us this was the best bit. The service was slow, the food was average and very overpriced. We would recommend just going up for a drink instead to enjoy the view.

Breakfast was probably our best meal with an array of different tastes, smells and colours, we really didn’t know where to start. Eggs to order, smoked salmon, freshly baked cakes, croissants and of course plenty of Indian delicacies. Make sure you go down on an empty stomach and this is more than enough to see you through until dinner. One morning we were even seated privately in the champagne room, we don’t know why, but we certainly didn’t object!

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An exclusive for hotel guests only is full use of the pool facility, such a luxurious setting in the city heat, taking a dip in the cold pool couldn’t be more perfect. It was lovely to take some time out and relax, especially before heading to Our Home Community Orphanage!

We had a fantastic stay at the Taj, yes it was expensive, but it was worth every penny. However, it’s one of those once in a lifetime opportunities. We feel like we’ve seen and experienced it now, and it was amazing but we wouldn’t stay again. When you walk through the entrance it’s like you shut India out, a welcome break you may think, but we like to be in the thick of it when we’re staying in a new country. We want to feel like we’re in India, hear the traffic, the cows and get dusty feet! The Taj Palace Hotel could quite honestly have been anywhere in the world and we wouldn’t have known. Two days was the perfect amount of time for us to relax and take a break before setting off on our next Indian adventure!