Early morning arrival in Madurai by train. The itinerary says we'll be picked up from the railway station by our hotel, but it doesn't happen. We eventually select the least sleazy looking taxi tout and bundle into what turns out to be a Morris Oxford for the short ride to the Royal Court.

The most obvious attraction here is the temple of Meenakshi Sundareswarar, with its 50 metre high gopurams, towering over the city.

Our city tour takes in the spectacular temple, as well as the 17th century Thirumalai Nayak Palace and the Gandhi Museum.

The following day, we fly to Bangalore to stay overnight at the Casa Piccola, "located in the heart of Bangalore". An odd choice, because the airport is located an hour away on the outskirts of Bangalore, and we're only here for the night. There's only so much exploration I can do in the city due to an early morning flight to Dubai.

Posted Thu Dec 30 00:00:00 2010 Tags: India

After two days, we've exhausted the sights of Mysore. We have a barely organised visit to the Mysore Palace, and a trip up Chamundi Hill to see the massive granite statue of Nandi the bull.

The following day is mostly spent on the 20-odd mile journey out to the temple at Somnathpur, with a visit to the zoo to round off the day.

Posted Tue Dec 28 00:00:00 2010 Tags: India

First AC affords us a reasonably refreshing night's sleep. Seats/beds are comfortable, and more grippy than 2 tier's worryingly slippery bunks.

We arrive in Bangalore at about the allotted time for the next stage of the journey. We miss our driver in the chaos at the station, and wait for way too long at the entrance as he searches around the station for us. It turns out he parked round the back, and his route to the car involves crossing a couple of sets of track.

Our transport to Mysore is a great big bus, apparently because the sensible-sized transport isn't available. It's a three hour drive, and the Bangalore to Mysore highway is slightly less crazy than Hospet's roads. We have a handful of stops on the way; one for breakfast with what may be the first Actual Coffee I've had in this country, one to gawp at a silk market. Not selling silk cloth as I'd expected, but silk cocoons. Strange yellow puffs resembling cotton wool balls. I don't buy any. It's still too early really.

As we near Mysore, we peel off into a couple of side trips to visit the sights of Srirangapatnam. One of them is the town's celebrated temple which was unnecessarily busy when we visited. Another is the Summer Palace of the 18th century Muslim ruler of Mysore, Tipu Sultan. The exhibition now makes a great deal of Sultan's contact and series of battles with the British, culminating in the ruler's death. His mausoleum remains a popular site to visit.

And then we make it to our hotel, the cavalierly spelt Crystal Paark Hotel. It's determinedly average, and the lunch is quite pleasant if you have enough patience.

Despite the long day, we're up for an explore of the shopping in the afternoon. This involves tuk-tuks, saris and coffee.

Posted Sun Dec 26 00:00:00 2010 Tags: India

A couple of days in Hampi start with an early morning taxi ride out to the second nearest train station. The train from Vasco de Gama is much slower to reach Margao than our taxi driver, with the result I can get out of bed a bit later.

Margao is the busiest railway station in the state, and it would be an introduction to the chaos of Indian life if it wasn't in Goa. As I'm reminded, Goa isn't proper India, and the alarming taxi ride out from the coast doesn't count.

The train from one stop down the line isn't that late, and we're soon shoving our way onboard. The journey passes in a haze of scenery through the dirty windows, chai wallahs and Radio 4 rips. Seven hours later we're at our destination, Hospet, and the plan comes together as we meet our lift to the Krishna Palace Hotel.

The rest of the afternoon is for wandering through the chaotic streets of Hospet, and trying to deal with the sights and sounds of India.

Tomorrow is a full day in the city, or to be precise, in the World Heritage site at Hampi. The trip out there is the true introduction to India. We cram into a small car and hang on as we career the eight or so miles to Hampi. The route takes us out of the town, through a few surrounding villages and into the site. For almost the entire route the road is full, of tuk-tuks, bullock carts, oblivious cows, other equally crazily driven cars and craters.

It's a full exhausting day of walking around the city remains, complete with coracle ride and lunch served on banana leaves.

Day two is relaxed than yesterday. We just have a couple of places we want to be and then a train to catch in the evening. Late start, grab a driver and jostle our way out to Hampi again.

We direct our driver towards the museum, but he inexplicably stops halfway there, at the Lakshmi Narasimha Temple. No bad thing - we get a chance for some photos of the statue in better light and fewer people before heading on to the museum.

It's surrounded by infinite numbers of statues of infinite numbers of reincarnations of Hindu gods, and contains further artifacts of Medieval Indian civilisation found in Hampi. In the centre of the museum is a huge map of the site, complete with model hills and boulders.

Afterwards, we head back towards the temple and through the colourful bazaar to a riverside restaurant for a light lunch.

The evening finds us on the Hampi Express to Bangalore, in first AC no less. We get a private compartment right up until some bloke knocks on the door and puts his son in the remaining bunk. No idea if he's supposed to be there.

Posted Sat Dec 25 00:00:00 2010 Tags: India

Ten days (and only 2 dives) later, I'm leaving the country again. I have a gruelling five day conference under the punishing backdrop of a five star beach resort in Goa.

I was actually pretty impressed with the conference. It turned out to be a good event, as well as an effective opportunity to show off the university.

Posted Thu Dec 16 00:00:00 2010 Tags: India