Coming home … again!

Some of you may have read our blog on coming home back in 2015 after we returned from a year long backpacking adventure. We were finding it so difficult to adjust back to reality and tried to express our feelings for other travellers to relate to. We had to realise it was okay to feel like we didn’t fit in with our society anymore but we found it extremely hard to explain it to the people around us and somehow writing about it was easier.

img_0109

So what happened when we finally started to settle back in to normality? We established a routine at work, enjoyed spending time with friends and family and then… decided to go again!

After just 12 months of being home, we did exactly that, this time not to backpack but to spend a few months at Our Home Community, as well as squeezing in some more of India and ticking Sri Lanka off our bucket list too.

image1

It was harder to leave this time, although it was what we both wanted, we had more doubts about going, right up until the journey to the airport. Were we doing the right thing going again? At 25 & 26, are we too old? Should we be buying a house and settling down? All these questions went round and round in our heads, and when we booked our flights to go, we were really emotional, not excited. Scared.

If leaving to go away for our second time was hard, imagine how hard it was to come back.

As we left for the airport we were so incredibly anxious, especially with it being 3:30am, we were actually still saying it’s not too late to change our minds. However after a power nap in the car, something clicked and as we arrived to the airport excitement kicked in. OKAY, WE’RE GOING AGAIN! It was like the polar opposite of what we’d been feeling in the weeks building up to our departure.

cropped-img_0114

After the emotional goodbyes before we knew it we were back in India and this time it was even better than before. We had two weeks to explore before heading to Our Home and we kept expecting something bad to happen, but it just didn’t! You either love or hate India but for us, each time we go gets better and better.

The main purpose of our trip was to spend a substantial amount of time with the children, for them to really get to know us and feel that they have us there to support them, no matter where in the world we are. We wanted them to know that from the day we met them in 2015 we are always going to be there in whatever way we can. (read about our experiences at Our Home)

img_0145

What could possibly be bad about spending three life changing months with the most amazing children and community in the most beautiful place in the world? Leaving.

When we talk about Our Home if you know us, you know we’re so passionate, and it’s because we’ve found our happy place. This is where we feel like we belong, we were born to do this. And therefore leaving was one of the worst, and most emotional days of our lives. The week building up to it was unbearable in itself and we had plenty of conversations with the children about why we couldn’t stay forever which was truly heart breaking. These children needed us and to have to leave was awful.

We told ourselves when the day was upon us we would be strong and not get upset, but that went straight out of the window when we woke up at 4:30am to find one of the boys just sitting outside our room waiting for us. It was like a slap in the face that our journey had come to an end. Every single child woke up extra early to see us off and give us letters and flowers, their little faces were just too much to cope with and we couldn’t stop hysterically crying. So much for being strong.

We had to take contentment that we achieved more than what we originally went to do, not only teaching and helping with day to day duties but building relationships and bonds with them 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 was the end of this trip it was just the start for our future with them. We came away with the best memories, together we experienced not only fun, laughter and love but we 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.” As we pulled away from Our Home we turned back to see them all just looking longingly with such emotion in their eyes, it’s a memory that will stay with us forever.

We had just over a month left to travel some more of India; Hampi, Bangalore and Goa before heading to Sri Lanka. It took us a while to get over feeling sad and couldn’t help but feel guilty in everything that we did, we had to give ourselves a good talking to and realise if we weren’t going to enjoy ourselves we may as well go home there and then. Not going home immediately was actually the best thing we could have done as it gave us a bit of time to adjust before going back to reality.

Our incredible trip very quickly came to an end after a life changing five months. We had a wonderful last few weeks but not only did we stay in luxury hotels, see beautiful views and eat delicious new delicacies but our time sleeping on the floor with no water or electricity, eating boiled rice for days and experiencing first hand what a cruel world it can be was what made our trip. We shape our world and we have the power to change it. We feel so lucky to be experiencing life and all it has to offer together, hopefully doing something along the way to help.

Landing back in England was just as we imagined, I mean we knew right? We’d done it before. Wrong. This time was so much harder, and it’s because we’d left our family in India behind.

IMG_0198

How is it possible to even try and settle back into every day London life when you’ve spent months living such a basic life with orphaned children in India? How can we justify spending £15 per day to travel to work when this is enough to feed them all? How can we spend hundreds of pounds on new clothes or on a night out when there is still so much suffering in this world? Our lives are a daily struggle of trying to fit back into society but also not forgetting what’s going on out there.

There is no answer to these questions … we just don’t know and are still trying to figure it all out. The truth is we will never be the same again. Our friends and family tell us how we’ve changed, and of course we have, you couldn’t experience what we have and be the same person.

IMG_0320

It’s an overwhelming sense of emotions coming home, not only because we miss the children but because we’re back to our same old life where nothing seems exciting. Everyday we have an overpowering wanderlust and always find our conversation drifting to “do you remember when we did …” we will never not have the desire to explore and experience new things, but how far do we go? Do we keep going again and again when there is that pressure on us to settle down, buy a house, get married and have our own children? Why can’t we be that couple that goes and settles down in an orphanage an India? That may sound crazy to you, but to us it couldn’t make more sense.

IMG_0470

It’s a really confusing time, and honestly? We don’t know what we want. Yes it’s the perfect fairy tale ending that we’ve spent eight amazing years together, seen the world, volunteered in India and now we should have our fairytale wedding and do everything by the book. Sounds great right? We’re not so sure …

“Travel isn’t always pretty. It isn’t always comfortable. Sometimes it hurts, it even breaks your heart. But that’s okay. The journey changes you; it should change you. It leaves marks on your memory, on your consciousness, on your heart, and on your body. You take something with you. Hopefully, you leave something good behind.” – Anthony Bourdain

FullSizeRender

Advertisements

Goa … The perfect ending.

After an incredible journey starting on 4th February 2015 from London Heathrow we had reached the final destination of our yearlong travelling adventure. It’s impossible to sum up a million memories into a few words but Goa was perhaps the perfect way to complete our voyage of discovery.

The beach

goa-2Arriving in Goa we stayed at Veeniola Holiday Home, an idyllic setting offering exactly what you want as a backpacker. The rooms were clean and well furnished, the staff were great, especially the manager Charlie who helpfully answered all of our questions, and most importantly the wifi worked! We kept extending our stay at Veeniola which totalled around two weeks and although it wasn’t the fanciest of places or the most lavish, it gave you everything you needed and made us feel at home.

Most of our time in Goa was spent reflecting and relaxing as we prepared ourselves for the big return to the UK. We were a 10-minute walk from a dreamy white sand, clear blue sea beach and spent our days kicking back with beers, diving through the waves and walking for miles through the sands under a perfect cloud free sky.

We have been to many destinations where there are so many things to do that you never have enough time to do them all but Goa was exactly what we needed at exactly the right time. Cavelossim beach had the perfect balance of beach hut restaurants and natural beauty. Alex’s Beach Shack is a must if you’re in town but you won’t be disappointed in any of the shacks along the beach, each with something different to offer, from fresh fish nights to Karaoke parties.

FC Goa

goa-9Being without football for most of the year, K was desperate to see a live game so we bought tickets for FC Goa vs Northeast United. The Indian super league was in its second season and included some global stars including Roberto Carlos and Robert Pires. On show in our game was World Cup winner and Brazil legend Lucio as well as former Portugal international Simao Sabrosa.

In terms of footballing quality, the game was lacking although it was scattered with some elements of class, including Reinaldo’s equaliser, but the most incredible part were the fans. As with anything in India, people want to be entertained and everyone was in party mood. The football was like the music at a house party, you know it’s there and without it you wouldn’t have a party but you don’t really pay attention to it. The infamous vuvuzelas from the 2010 World Cup were handed out before the game as well as FC Goa flags and everyone was in high spirits. The match ended 1-1 but we doubt the majority of the fans knew or even cared about the score. Fireworks were set off and the stadium was over-crowded but like everything in India, it was so wrong it worked just right.

DCIM100GOPROGOPR2898.Without a doubt Goa was our most relaxing stint in India despite the craziness of the Indian Super League! Our next biggest trip was going to the cinema to watch Spectre, as we’ve mentioned before we adored the cinemas in India, superb quality, cheap tickets and fab range of drinks and snacks, the ultimate movie experience!

Goa was complete and utter paradise, the longer we stayed the more we loved it. We’re intending on heading back in 2017 and perhaps this time we will see more of what this beautiful state has to offer. It might not be as traditional as the rest of India but sometimes we can all have a bit too much Indian, and to end a year of craziness, sleepless nights, long journeys and living out of a backpack, to do absolutely nothing was bliss!

 

Diwali, Moo & Chai!

punjab-2

Our next destination was Punjab and H had been waiting for this all year, it’s where K’s family live so she couldn’t wait to meet them and see where he spent his childhood holidays. It was also going to be Diwali during our time with them making it extra special.

We spent our time between K’s Uncle and Aunties, the days were filled chatting, eating and of course drinking lots of chai. They live on a farm so we were in our element, spending time with the baby animals, learning how to milk cows, and even driving tractors. We made a special friend on the farm, Moo. A little stray puppy that had wandered in and befriended the baby cows. It was one of the cutest things we have ever seen, and we made a really special bond with him, feeding him and playing. Our only regret is that we couldn’t bring him home with us!

A trip to Punjab wouldn’t be complete without visiting the famous Golden Temple. On our travels we have seen some absolutely perfect things in our world but have also experienced heart breaking moments, and unfortunately at the Golden Temple we witnessed one of the worst. H was expecting marvellous things after the many stories she had heard from K and other travellers but was beyond disappointed.

When we arrived, through the hustle and bustle of busy passing people we noticed a small child, no older than three curled up in a little ball, no adults in sight with hundreds of flies buzzing around. We approached the child and as we got closer noticed she was a little girl and smelt awful. K gently nudged her, asked if she was okay but she didn’t move, continuing to nudge her our hearts sank as we actually thought this girl might be dead on the floor as people were just passing by. One well dressed, religious man stopped and said to us she is fine, he shook her as if she was a toy. Clearly she was not fine. K felt her skin and she was still warm and scooped her into his arms. This was when she opened her eyes and we have never felt more relieved.

punjab-7She did not speak and looked terrified. She had filthy, mouldy old clothes on, and faeces coming out from her trousers. We took her to a quieter area and tried to talk, she said nothing and wouldn’t drink any water that we offered. We got a towel and stripped the clothes from her, washing her with wipes, antibacterial hand gel and water. She was absolutely covered in defecation which was days old and needed scrubbing off. We were extra careful to cover her modesty as passers-by had begun to stare, some just looking, some smiling admirably and some confused. K was annoyed by this and questioned why they were looking, what did they want to see? They were quite happy to walk past this dying girl five minutes ago. We started to get the feeling they were looking at H as if she was a rich foreign woman doing a fantastic thing for this poor child, as they were smiling?

K bought her some clothes and when she was completely clean we dressed her and she started to trust us finally drinking some water, she was so dehydrated. Clinging to H she was obviously upset by so many people staring. We took her to the local police, did they care? No. They laughed in our faces saying you can’t help everyone.

punjab-8We then took her to eat before deciding what to do next. She ate but still did not speak, K went to see if anyone was looking for her or if the police had decided to do anything about this situation and he came across a woman crying, searching with other children. He approached her and discovered she was the child’s mum, informing her she was safe with H and the woman was hysterical with relief, she kissed H’s feet and thanked us. The mum had been begging whilst the little girl was sleeping outside the temple, and explained how the girl had been very unwell and needed to sleep and that she needed money for medicine. She presumed the girl would be safe outside this holy temple. Thank goodness she was.

We’re sure your first reaction will be to judge this mother for leaving her child, it was ours, and we certainly told her she should never do it again. However, before you do judge this woman please think what could have happened to her. Like thousands of homeless Indian women, she could have been raped many times on the street, she herself could have been an orphan growing up as a street kid. For these people there is no opportunity, no benefits, no council housing, no NHS for sick children… nothing. The rich stay rich whilst the poor will always stay poor. We watched so many wealthy, well respected religious people walk past this small child like she did not even exist, and then donate money to a temple made of pure gold? To us we cannot comprehend this at all. Something for sure is that travelling certainly was opening our eyes and experiences like this are the ones that will never be forgotten and truly make you realise how lucky you are.

On a brighter note, Diwali was beautiful. K’s mum took H shopping and treated her to a stunning pink Indian suit, as everyone gets dressed up for the special day. We ate delicious food as all of the family joined together. As the night fell we lit candles around the house and outside, and it looked like a fairy tale come true. Some of the boys lit of fireworks (to our horror with no safety precautions in place!) but looking back it was all great fun. We played with sparklers into the night and it was just as we imagined it would be.

Our time in the north was an emotional one, full of ups and downs, and plenty of different experiences. It was beautiful though and showed us yet another side to India. More memories created whether they were good or bad. Travelling is the best form of learning and we certainly learnt a lot whilst travelling here.

punjab-4

Marvellous Mountains

3After an eventful time in Delhi next up were the Northern regions of India. A few weeks with cool breezes, mountain views, and peaceful evenings was exactly what we needed.

The plan was to head to Mount Abu, Shimla and finally Punjab to visit K’s family. Mount Abu is a hill station in Rajasthan, and being honest wasn’t actually on our agenda. K’s mum had always wanted to visit, so we decided to stop off for a few nights. We must admit it turned out to be fantastic, and we’re so glad we didn’t skip it! We stayed at the “Babbar Den” home in the hills which offered a great service, friendly staff, and also an awesome cave suite!

Mount Abu wasn’t short of attractions, if you’re looking for something unusual to do we would suggest the Dilwara Jain Temple. Known as one of the finest Jain temples around the world for its extraordinary architecture and marvellous marble stone carvings, this was without a doubt one of the more interesting travelling experiences we’ve had!

Mount abu 1

On our first evening we witnessed of the most beautiful sunsets ever, sitting at the top of Aravali Hills with a perfectly clear view and not a cloud in the sky, the welcome chill gave it an enchanting feeling. As we watched the night arrive, sunset point soon filled with tourists, locals and couples, all there for the same thing. We met a young local magician who was entertaining the crowds trying to earn money for his family. We got chatting and ended up taking him for dinner and despite the obvious language barrier he was really grateful and very sweet. We bumped into him again the next day and went on a pedalo ride in the town centre lake, it was great fun and something else we would recommend whilst in Mount Abu. Unlike a most of India, it has a really peaceful feel as the sun shines down onto Nakki lake.

The shopping in Mount Abu was also great, lots of novelty souvenirs, cheap silver and good quality clothes. You also have the opportunity to dress up as a local and have a photo-shoot in the town, which we didn’t do but it did attract a lot of attention! There are plenty of restaurant choices offering traditional Rajasthan dishes or western food, and also lots of great ice cream places! With so much to do whilst you are here we recommend hiring a cheap driver for the day to make sure you don’t miss anything.

5Leaving Mount Abu we travelled to Shimla which is famous for Indian tourists as their holiday destination for the cool breeze. Located in the Himalayas it was actually very nippy, but unfortunately we didn’t get to see any snow. It’s an incredibly scenic part of India, filled with monkeys and all sorts of other wildlife. There are plenty of tourist attractions which are great for families including pony rides, different games and balloons to buy. It almost had a Brighton type feel to it, without the sea, with children running about having fun, parents relaxing and gorgeous views.

6First on our agenda was visiting the ancient Jakhoo Temple and at a height of 2,455m above sea level it offers a panoramic view of the Shivalik Ranges and the town of Sanjauli. It is a moderate climb up a footpath, just ensure you have plenty of water if it is a hot day! There are many cheeky monkeys around looking for opportunities to nab your belongings, so keep them safe, a top tip is to take your sunglasses off your head. H made this mistake and encountered a huge monkey jumping on her for them! The temple is home world’s tallest statue of Lord Hanuman, good luck fitting it all in a single photo!

A little way from  Shimla, we stopped to take a cable car ride through one of the many valleys in the mountains. This was a first for both of us, and certainly something to tick off the bucket list! We would be lying to say we wasn’t a tad scared, but we felt like we were on top of the world. We also took a guided tour of the Indian Institute of Advanced Study also known as Viceregal Lodge, a building made of beautiful architecture, it is located on stunning grounds that you can explore whilst enjoying the view of Shimla. There is a lot of history associated with the building so be prepared to take in a lot of information! The tour guides were great though and catered for whatever language you spoke which is always useful and you will also get some great photos here.

Some of our best times in India were spent in the mountains, including Munnar, taking a step away from the chaotic cities and seeing some of the natural beauty India has to offer. We highly recommend visiting Shimla and Mount Abu if you’re travelling India, and look out for our little magician by the lake!

 

Arafwch – Slow down!

IMG_5529
After spending a year of our lives travelling through exotic locations, eating strange foods and absorbing the world’s different cultures, we almost forgot what made the UK so special. Living on the outskirts of London we overlooked all that this incredible city had to offer but worse, we forgot just how awesome the rest of the United Kingdom could be.

Saving for our next adventure, our UK break was less Angkor Wat and more Aberystwyth, specifically Tregaron. Staying at a wonderful little cottage in a village made up of ‘ones’ was just what the doctor ordered! One pub, one post office, one local shop … you get the picture. There was just enough in this village to make it inhabitable but just enough was perfect. Taking a break from the world we were left without phone signal and without worry as we allowed ourselves to take a break from the social strains of today’s society.

Y Talbot was first up and it was a fantastic mix of tradition and comfort. An ideal beer garden enclosing a beautiful pub which also happens to be a 4.5 star rated hotel on TripAdvisor. The food was gorgeous, succulent beef/fish and fresh vegetables which were locally sourced and a rare example of actually building from within your own community. A little known fact is that the head chef at the Y Talbot Dafydd trained with Marco Pierre White and was a previous Sous Chef at The Ritz! Certainly a claim to fame in this small village!

IMG_5452

But food isn’t what we came to Wales for, it was something far simpler. We wanted to take a break from ourselves. We trekked through the hills, had packed lunch in the mountains and walked along mile after mile of secluded coastline, with plenty of afternoon naps! The most human interaction we had was when buying a bottle of milk from the local store. Small talk doesn’t exist in places like Tregaron, people actually care about what you have to say. A wonderful change from meaninglessly nattering about traffic, the tube or worst of all… the weather!

IMG_5470

When heading into Aberystwyth we did manage to get phone signal and being the summer of 2016 and in a new destination, there was only one thing to do. Pokémon Go! We found so many awesome Pokémon in town from Tangela to Chancey but sadly the place was still crawling with those pesky Rattata!

IMG_5507

Aside from the Pokémon haul, Aberystwyth was a lively seaside town, with plenty to keep you busy. A host of bespoke eateries and coffee shops, castles that outlasted the dark ages and people with smiles on their faces. H visited her childhood favourite shop named “Stars” which is home to lots of little quirky trinkets, incense sticks and jewellery, a lovely little place for a rummage!

Not too far from Aberystwyth you can also find Devil’s Bridge Falls which is a world famous tourist attraction although it will be a test of your fitness so make sure you’re prepared before entering the underworld. If you don’t mind a soggy sandwich then head down to The Hafod with a picnic and eat in a flourishing forest dominated by streams. It’s not the easiest place to find but it’s hidden gems like the Hafod that make for the best memories.

IMG_5446

As we drove through the hills along the country lanes, passing horses, sheep and cows all roaming the lands we felt settled. It was as though we had finally been able to take a real break from everything. Personally, we couldn’t live in a place like this, we can’t function without the hustle and bustle but sometimes it’s good to take a step back and breathe, and Wales certainly allowed us to do just that.

Brighton

Brighton 4Whether you’re a couple looking for a romantic getaway, a family in need of some seaside fun or a group friends wanting to party the night away, Brighton is the place for you. Located just an hour south of London this easy to reach seaside town is great for a day trip or a mini getaway. Having been several times before we know how fun it is and exactly what Brighton has to offer.
.
If yoBrightonu’re a lover of all things food you are not short of options! Classic fish and chips along the beach, or strolling through the lanes you will stumble across as series of little eateries, each one offering something different but all with a beautiful atmosphere and a great selection. A couple of our favourites include the famous Choccywoccydoodah which any chocolate lover would be mad to miss indulging in! Dos Sombreros is another favourite, a fantastic Mexican with a wide selection of delicious food and cocktails galore, perfect to spend the night nattering away in the heart of this quaint town.
.
The lanes are a collection of tiny fairy-like cobbled streets famous for their ornate shops and restaurants. Be prepared for them to be busy on a weekend but they are lovely to wander around taking in the Brighton culture and full of quirkiness.
.

Brighton 1Brighton Pier
was built in 1899 and has an assortment of arcades, rides and other novelty fun whilst still keeping its historic ambience. We enjoyed ordering a cider to kick back and relax with the view of Brighton’s picturesque, colourful seafront bursting with beach huts and beautiful regency architecture.
.
You are spoiBrighton 2lt with choice when it comes down to booking accommodation from boutique B&Bs, modern apartments and classic hotels. We stayed in Queens hotel situated on the seafront which was great for a bit of luxury and a spa treatment during our visit. Sussex house was good for a self-catering trip and close to the town centre for easy access to Brighton’s famed nightlife. It was conveniently located with a modern interior, a good place to settle down in for a few nights.
.
Brighton has to be one of our favourite seaside resorts in the UK. With so much to explore and something different going on every time we visit, It really is an ideal UK getaway.

Why EU should go to Brussels

euro star

In the aftermath of the EU referendum (don’t worry this isn’t another rant from an unqualified politician) there was only one place for the next instalment of KHTravels; Brussels.

The heart of Europe and the EU, Brussels was exactly what we expected it to be. A real European city, café cultured with incredible art and architecture, an extraordinary love for waffles and amazing Belgian beer, what more could you ask for?

RB

Staying at the Radisson Blu in the centre of Brussels, we decided to take a break from backpacking and splash out with pure luxury! With a bucket of beer upon arrival, we took the glass elevator overlooking the Michelin stared restaurant to our floor before falling in love with our room. This was our first break away from England together since coming home from our travels and we had totally forgot that holidays are meant to be relaxing. We’d become so accustomed to dorm rooms and wooden beds the incredible décor and lavish style of the Radisson Blu was just what the doctor ordered!

GP

After tearing ourselves away from the gorgeous room we decided to head down to Grand Place which was only a few minutes’ walk away. As luck would have it, the Brussels Jazz Marathon was taking place and we kicked back with a freshly brewed Belgian beer soaking up the sun and the atmosphere. Grand Place was stunning, you feel as if you’ve been enclosed into a mythical land, although with some of the buildings being very dark, we felt this land could also have a gloomy, eerie side if no one was around …

m

Manneken pis was next on our hit list and we soon found the small bronze sculpture by following the giggles of tourists sniggering around a small boy with an everlasting bladder. We have to be honest, the sculpture was interesting but with so many people and an overkill with replicas all over the city we were slightly underwhelmed. We may have also been slightly distracted by the multiple one Euro waffle bars that were distracting our attention. These were the greatest waffles on Earth, we know you’ve heard this a lot but trust us, please go to Brussels if only for the waffles … beer, oh, and the Belgian frittes. Just go for the food, everything else is a bonus!

Steak

Speaking of food, we may have had our best meal ever at a wonderful little restaurant called Meet Meat. Slightly out of town on a rainy evening, we took the option of travelling out of the city centre to Meet Meat due to the rave reviews on Tripadvisor and it was definitely the right decision! With a wide range of steak cuts for you to select, cooked to your preference and accompanied by a host of impeccably presented sides, Meet Meat certainly continued with our theme of excellency and quality during this city break. The prime cuts of beef almost melted in your mouth and filled that gap in your stomach in such a way that you would not know how you ever lived without it. Simply exceptional.

Enough food porn for one blog and back to the sights! We loved the accessibility of Brussels, from walking through the cobbled streets to jumping on the tube without paying through your nose for travel. We did exactly that for our next destination – the Atomium and Mini Europe. The Atomium was opened in 1958 amidst great fanfare at the World Fair of Brussels (aka Expo 58). This incredible structure was designed to symbolise utopia and peace, a structure without structure and a figure of the past with a permanently futuristic look. Climbing through the Atomium there is a sense of imagination and wonder with a hint of incompletion. A wondrous view from afar and equally breath-taking views of the city from within, the interior of the Atomium just seems a bit hollow, yet it almost seems as though it was meant that way.

A stone’s throw away was Mini Europe, a grand collection of Europe’s most iconic and recognisable landmarks and a fantastic place to inspire you to travel the continent. Featuring the eruption of Vesuvius and the leaning tower of Pisa, this is the perfect spot to choose your next destination if backpacking through Europe.

IMG_4979

Other city highlights included brunch at the Musical Instrument Museum (MIM), St. Michael & St. Gudula Cathedral Tower and Galeries St Hubert. Brunch at the MIM was unreal with limitless prosciutto ham, champagne and a selection of cheeses and freshly baked breads. The cathedral was another piece of architectural brilliance while the Galeries reminded us of just why Europe is so fantastic. Lined with exquisite chocolatiers, theatres and luxury stores all enclosed with a glass roof, this was one of our most favourite spots being just a short walk away from our hotel.

Europe

Finally, despite being in the immediate aftermath of Brexit we could not leave Brussels without visiting the European Union. Politics are politics and there will always be rights and wrongs to both sides but one thing we can say is that we are better collectively than individually. In a world of travel and integration, there is no room for segregation. The EU may not have been what it had set out to be but it did help to bring together 28 countries with different languages, different cultures and different people. No one is certain what the future will hold or what another decision would have brought but one thing we do know is this. The European Union was one of the most boring day trips of our time in Brussels so instead of visiting a building full of politicians, you’d be better off hanging back in Grand Place with a beer and meeting the real people that make Europe so great.

Brussels 12

We’ve got 99 problems but travelling isn’t one!

Delhi Belly

2Following on from one of the most incredible experiences in Agra, Delhi was next on the list. We decided buses were no longer an option with K’s mum, once was enough! We hired a car from our hostel in Agra to Delhi where we had booked to stay at Smyle Inn, right in the centre of New Delhi and bang in the middle of Main Bazaar road. The car dropped us at the end of a tiny little alleyway and we made our way through with all of our luggage, passing outside urinals, sleeping dogs, spitting men, whilst attempting to not get run over by motorbikes. When we reached Smyle Inn it was a pleasant surprise and in fact we visited Delhi three times and opted to stay here each time. A very warm welcome, clean rooms equipped with everything you need; wifi, free breakfast, a great location (despite the alley) and most importantly, cheap! This place was perfect for us.

Delhi 3First up was a visit to the Gurudwara Bangla Sahib, more for K’s mum being a traditional Sikh, but it turned out we all really enjoyed it. Upon entering we passed an elderly man with a kind face and he was completely amazed when H greeted him with “Sat sri akaal mamaji” one of those moments that will always stick out! The temple was peaceful and we were able to completely relax, dipping our feet in the holy water and people watching the locals doing the same. A delicious meal was served of dahl, chapatti and kheer to finish. We had an unexpectedly good time here, in fact, better than when we visited the Golden Temple, but we’ve not got to that yet.

Delhi 2Something on H’s bucket list was to see a Bollywood show in India, and that we did. We booked tickets to see Zangoora, the BIGGEST Bollywood stage show ever and we were not disappointed! We took the metro and surprisingly it was a good idea. Definitely worth a try and much quicker than tuk tuks if you are travelling longer distances, however we must emphasise one thing; DO NOT travel during rush hour. Imagine being on the central line in London and multiply the people by a hundred! It was unbearable. The show was located in its own little magical world at the Kingdom of Dreams, it’s what you imagine India to be like. Filled with colour, food, bhangra and more, minus all of the bad bits! We loved walking round and exploring this unexpected place. Zangoora was in Hindi but luckily K’s mum was on hand to translate when needed. It was a fabulous show that we all immensely enjoyed. We couldn’t help but be immersed into Indian culture with the music and dancing and we jumped to our feet at the end when the finale was to Jai Ho. The show finished late so we decided to get a tuctuc back to main bazaar and eat local… which was a mistake. Nothing was open and we were content to just go to bed, but K’s mum was insistent that we ate and found a back street veggie place. Now don’t get us wrong, the food was good but little did we know we were all about to encounter the dreaded Delhi Belly!

H woke up after a few hours spewing her guts up and K and his mum came down with it a few days later. Trust us when we say it was beyond awful, we ended up having to go the hospital as K just couldn’t shift it! But anyway, what’s the point in going to Delhi if you’re not going to experience chronic food poising?! All part of the experience!

K and his mum had a day out visiting Qutb Minar and the Lotus Temple which was a strangely relaxing experience (something you don’t often get in India) whilst H was unwell in bed. The striking flower shaped building which is deceptively large is a place of worship which is open to any religion. It is simply a place for prayer which holds no judgements, a rarity when it comes to religion.

1The following day we went to The India Gate war memorial, it is very similar to the Gateway to India in Mumbai but not on the edge of the sea, and as well as being a good Instagram opportunity there is a lot of history behind the famous arch.

Other places we visited whilst in Delhi were Connaught Place, great for little eateries and shopping and we also found a Nandos! Saket Mall had a fantastic Hard Rock Cafe which we couldn’t get enough of, we really lived it up in Delhi trying all of the cultural food. The Jama Masjid temple (yes another temple) was a less peaceful experience than what greeted us at the Lotus Temple. We had a bit of a bad experience here with H, being completely covered up and respectable but still treated unfairly, told to pay a fee no one else was and asked not to take photos whilst everyone was taking photos of her! Unfortunately, this ruined what was meant to be one of Delhi’s top sights, but you just learn to move on from these experiences whilst travelling, it’s all part of it. One place we didn’t get a chance to visit was Rashtrapati Bhavan the presidential residence. We’ve heard how beautiful it was and just simply didn’t get time.

DelhiAfter one long visit to Delhi, and two shorter stop overs we became really fond of it, even the little alley leading to our hotel from main bazaar road started to feel like home. We learnt where to hold our nose and close our eyes and all was fine. Main Bazaar was also great for a bargain, with lots of traditional Indian gifts, cool clothes and very cheap silver, we did lots of shopping here for family gifts as India was our last stop before returning home.

As mentioned before the main cities in India get a lot of stick, and we can understand why, Delhi is absolutely crazy. You have to completely immerse yourself otherwise you will get lost along the way. It’s absolutely filthy, poor, filled with street kids begging in the middle of traffic and people who want to rip you off. However, if you are able to let go and take things with a pinch of salt, it is incredible. We guarantee you will enjoy it and learn so much about the culture and yourself. There is nowhere else in the world that is such an assault to the senses as Delhi, and that’s what makes it so special. We felt something that is pulling us back, drawing us in, and we can’t wait to dive in head first again!

781

A tale of two Taj’s

So after exploring the less obvious areas of India, we finally got round to doing the mainstream routes starting with Mumbai and Agra.

Mumbai

mumbaArriving in Mumbai we were back in another bustling city full of extreme heat, overcrowding and pollution and you know what? We absolutely loved it!

However, things did not get off to the best start as accommodation was hard to come by, especially for a backpacker! Paying almost up to £13 a bed in a hostel and £20 for a private room, Mumbai was one of India’s most expensive regions for accommodation but you did not exactly get what you paid for.

FullSizeRenderOn our first night after another long and uncomfortable journey, we were excited for a shower and a comfortable bed. The shower was decent enough (standard dripping taps and stained towels) we rolled into bed and drifted off. Before long we were tossing and turning and itching bites all over our body, we have had more than our fair share of mosquito bites in our time and were almost immune to them by now but these were different. After waking up in the middle of the night to check for gnats we turned the light on and found tens of lumps all over our bodies from bed bugs!

With no one at reception we laid the stained towels down and tried to sleep through the bites and come the morning K had a lump in his eye the size of a golf ball. We reported the issue to reception who were very apologetic and allowed us to change rooms. This was thankfully our first and last case of bed bugs from our travels and it was not an experience we wished to suffer through again!

IMG_3755Mumbai itself was a beautiful city, full of British architecture and incredible buildings, we walked from Central Station, past the Asiatic Society Library and military base and visited the ‘Prince of Wales Museum’, or to the locals Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalay (definitely worth a visit to see the stunning grounds), before eventually reaching the Gateway of India. A major tourist attraction, the gateway was crammed with people and security but it was still a fantastic place to be. The usual fluttering of senses tingled you to your core as you immersed yourself into India’s culture. You look from the street stalls, families living on the streets and animals roaming the roads and then lift your head to the great Gateway of India. Extraordinary.

A stone’s throw away is The Taj Hotel, a lavish and grand hotel which epitomises exactly what India does so right. In spite of the extreme poverty, dangers and various flaws, India enables itself to offer the very highest of standards to those willing to pay for it. K’s mother came to visit us in India and met us in Mumbai in an emotional and long awaited re-acquaintance between mother and son. We decided to go for Tea at the Taj and were not disappointed.

IMG_3758As soon as the air con hits you and the doors close, you are in an entirely different place. A world of designer brands, gold and silver service greets you in such a way that even the most luxurious of Western brands would struggle to match. The walls are lined with marble and gold as you pass through the corridors before finding the grand staircase leading to the restaurant. The Taj Hotel really is all it’s made up to be and if you ever wish to try the finer things India has to offer then this is the place to be.

Mumbai is the perfect example of the wealth contrast and how extreme the casting is from rich to poor in India, going from the Taj Hotel, to the slums of the city…

IMG_3757Normally when you see a film set in another country you’re often told they are not an accurate representation or things are exaggerated. We took a slums tour in Mumbai with the fantastic “Mystical Mumbai Tours” (A great trustworthy tour operator… hard to find in India!) and actually visited the exact locations of Slumdog Millionaire where it looked like the movie was filmed yesterday. The word slum is thrown around a lot these days but this area in Mumbai was on another level. There were mountains of rubbish, children roaming riot, unbathed and underfed, animals around every corner and yet everything seemed to work. The alleys were so small, if you took a wrong turn you’d had no choice but to continue walking as there was simply not enough room to turn around. If you’re claustrophobic, then this place definitely isn’t for you!

slumsDespite the millions of people living in severe poverty the whole place just seemed to click. Everybody knew everyone and each had a role to play in this community. It’s not until you climb onto the roof of one of the seemingly collapsing buildings that you realise just how big the slums are. They go on for as far as the eye can see with each person trying to break through financial barriers in the home of Bollywood.

The main cities of India seem to get a lot of stick from tourists, but we threw ourselves right in and fell in love with Mumbai. Yes, it was sweaty, dirty and busy, but there was another side that we adored. The buildings, the people, the buzz, the food, and learning all about the culture.

Agra

JaipurTravelling with K’s mum we decided to show her a bit of the backpacker lifestyle we had now been living for so long and took her on a rickety old bus journey through the night to get to Agra. Flying round the bends at over 100mph, we must admit she handled it very well!

We spent a few nights in Gujurat, Rajasthan and Jaipur and we would love to tell you every detail but if we did that this would be more of a book and less of a blog. Watch out for the hardback version of KHTravels coming soon!

Agra is famous for one thing and one thing only. We had been looking forward to seeing this monument ever since we stepped onto that first plane when leaving Heathrow and now we were almost there. Stories have been told and a million and one pictures have been taken but until you’re there, until you see the sun rise over it and until you feel the marble beneath your feet you never really understand just how incredible it is. The Taj Mahal.

Hannah and Kieran TajArriving early for sunrise, our hostel was a short walk away from one of the new seven wonders of the world. The number of self-proclaimed tour guides almost outnumber the tourists but this is one of those places where you do your research beforehand and you just come to absorb the beauty. The whole place is huge, as you walk through gates and first set eyes on the marble marvel you gain a sense of accomplishment, like you’ve really done something and you’ve now seen something you’ll remember forever. In reality you’ve done nothing but open your eyes but this magnificent structure has stood strong for almost four centuries and still looks as awe provoking as ever.

The Indian sun is one of the most beautiful sights in the world, it sounds strange to hear that because the sun is the same anywhere in the world, but it really is different here. Rising over the dusty plains and shining through the pollution, it symbolises hope. That another day is here and anything is possible. Combine that with the wonders of the Taj Mahal and you create something that lasts a lifetime and goes beyond words.