The Asian Circle

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KHTravels are working with The Asian Circle on a mission to support vulnerable women in India and South Asia. We are honoured to be assisting with their social media campaign raising awareness of the fantastic work that they carry out daily. Please help spread the word and follow them on Twitter, Facebook & Instagram!

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The Asian Circle is working together with Oxfam in the tribal Adivasi communities in North East India to challenge the social acceptance of sexual and domestic violence against women. Oxfam is helping the government, police and judiciary to apply the laws that protect women. This includes setting up support centres in police stations to provide shelter, legal advice, counselling and launching a state-wide campaign to raise awareness of and change attitudes towards violence against women.

Around the world, 35% of women and girls suffer physical or sexual violence in their lifetime. November 25th is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, a day dedicated to raise public awareness about this and other appalling statistics and that is what we’re doing!

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When not to Goa!

Goa was the perfect ending to our year travelling the world in 2015 so we thought what better pick-me-up after leaving the kids at Our Home than a few weeks of luxury back there. Unfortunately, it was a far cry from the seaside paradise we remembered from last time we visited.

Cavelossim

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Carrying on from where we left off last time we returned to Cavelossim to stay at Veeniola Guest House. Upon our arrival it all seemed a bit quiet as this place was full of travellers last time we visited but there was a spark missing this time around as we soon found out it was low season.

We never thought being in Goa during low season would be particularly bad as we quite enjoyed the thought of quiet evenings sipping pinocoladas on the beach front. What we didn’t expect that there would be nowhere left to get a pinocalada from! All the shops that were thriving from our last visit had been closed for weeks and the many beach shacks had been reduced down to one.

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Instead of relying on the local beach we hired a scooter and in the evenings rode into the local town for dinner and drinks with Mike’s Place being a particular favourite. We spent the days relaxing on the beach and going for long walks, but to be honest we were pretty bored and hoped we could find better elsewhere!

Agonda

Moving to Agonda we decided to treat ourselves to some nice accommodation as despite the friendly staff at Veeniola it didn’t exactly trigger that holiday feeling you hope for.

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We stayed in a beach shack at Jojolapap’s and it was a stark improvement. You get what you pay for and Veeniola was considerably cheaper but Jojolapa’s beach front setting enabled us to relax as we wanted to when first heading to Goa. Oh, they also have the cutest puppy pug you’ll ever meet, just don’t grow too attached as you can’t keep him.

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The beach was lovely and significantly better than Cavelossim which had deteriorated in the two years from our previous visit with a lot more litter scattered in the sand. The sea at Agonda was very wavy just as we like it, the beach was clean and we enjoyed walks up to the rocky area to watch the sunset over the cove.

If you’re in Agonda beach you have to visit Fatima’s for some of the best food you’ll encounter in India! Everything on the menu was exquisite and it costs between £3-£5 a meal! Although it was still very quiet and a lot of the little shops were closed, it still had a good atmosphere which is what we needed!

Cola Beach

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We hired a scooter at 300 rupees for the day and decided to visit Cola Beach. We had read reviews saying it was a hidden gem of a beach and when asking for directions we were told the journey is “a little rough” but how rough could it be?

After 20 minutes of smooth riding we came to a cross roads that directed us to a side road to Cola Beach. The problem was that this was no road it was just sand and boulders which has been slightly flattened. We muddled our way down the route and H got flung off the back of the bike one too many times but when reaching our destination we soon found it was all worth it.

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Climbing down the steps of a steep cliff we found the most incredible secluded beach with a fresh water lake to one side and 5 metre waves of sea on the other! This was something we’ve never experienced before and if you are ever in a position to visit Cola Beach this is one place you don’t want to miss! Make sure you pack yourself enough water to last however as you won’t find any beach shacks here!

The North

All good things come to an end and as we left Jojolapa we had hope that the north of Goa would be livelier than the south and having never visited the north before we were excited for what it had to offer. As we reached our next destination in Mandrem we were delighted to see that Fab Hotel actually reflected the pictures when booking the accommodation! The hotel had nice large, airy rooms, an on site bar and restaurant and swimming pool enclosed by arched palm trees! This bar was also where we were introduced to Bira beer which had now become K’s favourite Indian beer!

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Sadly the hotel was as good as it got in Mandrem and for the rest of north goa. We explored several of the local beaches and we were disappointed to see that they were full of rubbish, dog poo and just not a nice place to be. You could tell we were out of season as the whole area felt like no one cared anymore which is not how any environment should be treated. Overall we are certain that if we return to Goa we will be sticking to the south and avoiding the landfill like north.

We left Mandrem with the knowledge that the only good thing about the area was Fab Hotel and were by now just looking forward to our next trip to Sri Lanka. We thought four nights in Panjim would be too much before our flight so we booked at apartment for two nights in Arpora.

We booked to stay at Zeebo Suites and as soon as we pulled up to the hotel we felt like we had been let down again. However, you should never judge a book by its cover and this was exactly the case here! We were led to our top floor apartment overlooking the huge swimming pool and were absolutely delighted. We had a full private kitchen complete with gas stove and washing machine, a living room with premium HD which was replicated in the bedroom. We had sofas, two balconies, a huge fridge and it even had great wifi! This apartment was less than £20 a night for two people and we were debating moving in permanently!

We actually chose to visit Arpora for the night market but as with most of Goa it was closed but that didn’t bother us as it meant we could make the most of our new pad! (You can see how disappointed with Goa we must have been to be excited to stay in the apartment!)

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The best part was yet to come however as almost all the restaurants were closed we were wondering what we were going to eat. Then miraculously a leaflet was slipped under our door advertising The Pink Chilli. We don’t believe in religion but this was a sign from God to say “treat yourself, you deserve it!”

Pink Chilli was a 20 minute walk from the apartment but it was so worth it. Arriving at the restaurant you’re greeted with a pink tuc tuc and enter into a world of quirky Indian imagination. Bollywood posters from all eras are plastered on the walls, you’ll find the Indian version of the Mona Lisa and Michael Jackson in a turban! The food was fabulous as well, not the cheapest place to eat but it was worth every penny and you have to try the pulled chicken tikka burger!

After much deliberation we decided staying in our apartment was not better than flying to Sri Lanka so we moved to Panjim for two nights before our flight.

We stayed at Hospedaria homestay which is extremely highly rated on TripAdvisor. The accommodation was lovely and the room was one of the biggest we’ve seen at a homestay but we couldn’t justify exactly why it was so highly rated as we thought it was just a nice place to stay.

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We visited Panjim Church which was a nice building but we wouldn’t say you’d be missing out if you didn’t visit during your stay in Panjim. What we do recommend you do is find yourself a good local restaurant as try the fish thali! A mixture of battered, fried, grilled fish complete with clams and rice for under £2 means you can’t go wrong! We’d suggest you look for the busier ones to avoid a case of the Delhi belly but it’s definitely something you should try if you’re in Panjim.

If you’re after something more western then Route 66 is the place for you. This American diner is tucked away upstairs on the main street, near Panjim post office.

We can honestly say we have never had a better burger in India from a standalone restaurant! They also offer up some mean cocktails and do that wondrous Bira beer. Lionel is the manager there and he offers great hospitality, our #1 place to eat in Panjim.

Overall our experience of Goa was saved by Jojolapa, the Zeebo Suites apartments and some of the best food we’ve had in India at the Pink Chilli and Route 66. Not really what you expect from a blog on Goa where you imagine a beach paradise but that just wasn’t the case for us. Sri Lanka however, was a different story…

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A weekend in Hampi

Would you believe until a few months ago despite having travelled all over India in 2015 we had never heard of Hampi! It wasn’t until we met at group of guys travelling India by bike at Our Home that we were recommended to visit. It was only then that we started seeing Hampi pop up all over the place online and on various travel blogs, so we decided we had to go!

Where to stay

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We spent quite a lot of time browsing online to find the right accommodation. There seemed to be two options; very cheap or very expensive. Neither of these were what we wanted and it appeared that the only mid-range hotel at £25 per night was Clarks Inn, little did we know when we booked this place what a gem we had found. In prime location we were warmly greeted by friendly, confident and efficient staff, often quite hard to find in India unless you are staying in a luxury hotel. The room was great with lots of space, high ceilings, clean white walls and white bed sheets (a favourite of ours!) with good air con, a TV and spacious bathroom. The only downside was that the wifi didn’t quite reach our room but we couldn’t complain with such comfortable surroundings and so much to do in Hampi. The hotel also had a lovely swimming pool which was an added bonus and absolutely perfect after a long day exploring the local ruins and the onsite restaurant also served up good food either in the pleasant restaurant or as room service. We really couldn’t recommended this hotel highly enough.

What to do

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There are a few options to explore Hampi including by bike/scooter, push bike, tuctuc and taxi. Anyone that chooses the push bike option deserves a medal as in 40+ degrees we wouldn’t even attempt it! Being completely honest we rushed into a decision a bit and when our hotel offered a luxury AC car for the day at only 1500 rupees we jumped at the chance. This is very cheap for a day tour in such good transport but we’re sure a tuc tuc would have been much cheaper and just as good so you should shop around first!

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The tour will see you cover most of Hampi and you will quickly see what a fascinating place it is. We won’t go into too much detail as we don’t want to spoil the surprises you have in store but a few of our favourite spots included Hemakuta Temple Hill which offered fantastic views and takes you away from the tourists. Sasivekalu Ganesha is an impressively large statue of Ganesh and there are plenty more beautiful temples to see with each as impressively ancient as the next with probably too many to list! The Lotus Mahal, Elephant Stables, Guards Quarters and Queens Bath are just a few and each one is stunningly interesting in its own way.

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The bazaar is located just next to Virupaksha Achyutaraya Temple and is a backpacker’s paradise. Full of handmade products, elephant pants, slogan t-shirts and plenty of eateries this place is a must visit. We also noticed that it’s surprisingly cheap so we would recommend not bargaining too hard here, remember that extra 20p to you can be a lot to the locals.

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Now obviously it depends on what side of the river you are staying on but for us over the river was the other side of the main temples and bazaar. We had read that ordinarily you can catch a boat over for very little, however, we were surprised and saddened to see that the water was so shallow due to the drought we could simply walk right over. We initially thought we may get a tuc tuc to see the sights on the other side but soon realised this wasn’t the thing to do. We hired a scooter for 300 rupees and it was so relaxed, as long as you returned it in good condition! We recommend you go on a long drive past the lake and take in the gorgeous views. There are also quite a few temples to see but none better than Hanuman Temple. We made the mistake of climbing up at midday but if you set off early the climb shouldn’t be too hard. Although the temple hasn’t got that much of a wow factor, the views you’re rewarded with make it so worthwhile.

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Where to eat

There are plenty of places to eat around Hampi and we will start with our hotel. Even if you’re not staying in Clarks Inn we would recommend paying them a visit for dinner. The restaurant is really nice and is a welcome break from all of the backpacker places if you fancy something different and the food is good with reasonable prices.

In the Bazaar we originally wanted to try Funky Monkey but was closed so we opted for the highly recommended Mango Tree and we can certainly say it lived up to expectations! We both went for a pizza each and finished the lot. They were as good as a pizza can be in India and we also noticed lots of people ordering the Indian dishes and they also looked and smelt great!

Over the river you can get beers nice and easily which is always a bonus in India. We followed the signs to The White Elephant but ended up eating in a place just opposite as it was a lot busier. Unfortunately we had to wait over an hour for the food which was just above average, so although we didn’t try it, we would suggest sticking to The White Elephant!

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Our time in Hampi was unexpectedly brilliant. We didn’t know what we were going to find and were so happy with our few days exploring this ancient city and enjoying our accommodation. It is now up there with one of our favourite places in India so if you’re travelling south you can’t miss it!

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A weekend in Bangalore

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Visiting Bangalore was a strange place for us as it came immediately after leaving Our Home Community. Once we did finally manage to wipe away our tears and venture out of our hotel room we soon discovered we were in what could become one of our favourite Indian cities! Please forgive our lack of photos in this blog, we felt we just needed a few days away from smiley snaps and social media!

Where not to stay:

We booked to stay at Treebo Edge and being a business city, accommodation wasn’t cheap to come by and the location of this particular Treebo caught our attention.

The hotel was a short walk away from the grand UB City Mall and this was fantastic but unfortunately this is where the positives ended.

The room was small and stuffy with no windows. The staff were not helpful at all and borderline incompetent, we aren’t the most difficult travellers to please but the staff found it difficult to answer the simplest of questions.

The walls were wafer thin so you heard every conversation from the reception to the guests next door and all in between. The food was mediocre at best (that’s being generous) and we had to argue to get access to the wifi! All together Treebo Edge in Bangalore is a big no no.

What to do:

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Bangalore is one of the biggest cities in India but unfortunately we only had two nights to explore and most of our time was spent in the luxurious UB City mall and comfort eating! The whole layout of the place is exceptional and exudes class, we would suggest you leave the elephant pants behind for this outing and it’s by no means a cheap place to shop but even if you go for a walk and a beer you will enjoy your experience. Our top tip would be to save your ventures to UB City for the evenings and take advantage of the many happy hours on offer at the local bars during the day. Bootlegger was our preferred choice and we’d definitely recommend giving it a visit.

Where to eat:

Once again UB City was our saviour from the disappointment that awaited us at Treebo Edge. There is an abundance of incredible restaurants to choose from on the outside terrace and we decided to give Sanchez a try after being lured in by the scent of fresh fajitas!

Sanchez was reasonably priced considering its setting and the food itself was delicious. The staff were exceptional and it was the perfect pick me up as we drank our sorrows away in the Mexican surroundings.

We also visited Shiro for a drink and we were right when we guessed they would make one hell of a Pinocalada! *inserts throwback to Mauritius*

Shiro was especially busy and no wonder as the setting was one of a Japanese paradise with the dark shades contrasting with the giant Buddha as the white elephant in the bamboo enclosed room. We managed to get a seat on one of the sofas in the main restaurant but we would avoid waiting at the rooftop bar in the sweltering summer nights despite the soothing sounds of live acoustic music.

Cafe Mojo on St.Marks road was another great find. From the outside it doesn’t look the most appealing and you have to go up a set of stairs before reaching the restaurant, but when you enter you are immediately relieved! Goan themed this hidden gem wasn’t as busy as it should have been. Excellent service, cheap but delicious food and drinks with a good atmosphere. If you’re looking for a budget night out then this is your place.

Finally if you’re an ice-cream lover make sure you take a break from the scorching city heat and visit Fava. The most incredible menu of luxury ice cream for such reasonable prices!

We can’t really say we explored Bangalore as we missed out on many of the top things to do due to a lack of time. However we weren’t there for a long time, we were there for a good time and that’s just what we had.✌🏽

The last week at Our Home

It’s taken us a while to write this blog … we’ve been coming to terms with leaving Our Home and the last week was so emotional we’ve not known how to put it into words. However, having cried out all our tears and spoken to the children numerous times since leaving, we’re now ready to share our experience with you.

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The week was a beautiful one, filled with so many wonderful memories makers. We went on plenty of walks where the children picked us lovely flowers to “take back to England.” K enjoyed his last few football matches with the older boys, we sang songs and recapped over the amaxing few months we spent together. We took more photos and promised the children as soon as we returned to England we will print and send them as we did last time which gave them something exciting to look forward to.

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The children had many heart wrenching questions for us “when are you coming back?” “why can’t you live here?” “Do the airports check your bags? I was thinking I could sneak in and come to England with you.” It truly was so tough and we were just as upset as them, if not more. All we could do was reassure them that we would be back and told them that not a day will go by that we won’t think about them and that we will write, phone and do everything we can to stay in touch. It felt different leaving this time to before. It wasn’t just an orphanage where we volunteered at, it was family we were leaving. Our little bedroom became our home and we packed our bags whilst listening to music from the last few months that we had shared with the children… which probably didn’t help!

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To make things just a tad more difficult during the last few days there was absolutely no water or electricity. It was a really hard few days both physically and emotionally and the children needed a treat. We wanted to make our last evening as fun as possible and luckily during the afternoon the electricity and water finally came back. We brought some speakers to the dining hall to play music and H’s nan and granddad very kindly sponsored chicken biryani for dinner, the kids favourite! Although it was lovely evening enjoyed by all, we couldn’t get away from the feeling that we were leaving tomorrow, it felt very surreal.

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When the morning came around we woke up so heartbroken that our incredible journey at Our Home had come to an end. One of the boys was awake already at 5am and had come to our room to help us finish packing. That started the tears off and once they started they wouldn’t stop! It was by far the hardest thing we’ve ever had to do. Every single child woke up extra early to see us off and greeted us with letters, flowers and drawings. We said goodbye to each and every one of them although we could barely speak we were so upset. So much for keeping it together and being strong! We were so sad as as our car drove away and all of the kids stood looking on.

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We did however leave feeling content that we achieved more than what we originally came to do, not only teaching and helping with day to day duties but building relationships and bonds with the children that can never be broken. They all know that we will ALWAYS be there to support them and we will visit as much as we can, although it’s the end of this trip it is just the start for our future with them. We’ve made the best memories and together experienced not only the fun, laughter and love but we’ve also endured the rawness, truthfulness, tears, emotions and overcome so many firsts. In the words of the children:

“You going time you no cry, you going time you happy only” … Until next time Our Home.

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.