Nasik, India

Nasik was never on our Itinerary. But one day, Sarah opened up the guide book to a random page with boxed text, that said: Vineyards. So that’s why we got a 3am train that bypassed Mumbai and headed to this little known place.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERATo be honest, we were heading there with trepidation as it was heading towards Northern India. A place that took a lot of getting used to the first time round, it was really only Varanasi and Kolkata that we liked in that area. In Goa, we had been reminded of the packs of men who seem to hold no regard to the opposite sex, so we didn’t have high expectations. How wrong we were. Nasik is town that encompasses everything we fell in love with about India. Like Varanasi, Nasik is a holy place that pilgrims come to indulge in the life and death that surrounds the Godavari River. Along the river it had the biggest food market we had been to, with the friendliest people. They would speak in native tongue, we would reply in English and the result would end in a handshake and some strange food. As it’s still technically South, we could still get Dosai for breakfast and like Kolkata, Nasik has a flower market, again with the warmest smiles. There was a fabric section for Sarah, and cooking shops for Wade. We could by samosas for snacks and Jalebi’s for dessert. The group of men here would sit in a shop under musical instruments and invite us over for chai, their shout. They had friendly barber shops like in Chennai, and on the basis that I needed a shave and thought it better to pay someone else, I ventured into the one with the happiest looking barber.

It was at the point where the moustache-less man applied shaving foam to my face except for my upper lip. I thought no, he will do that later but when he finished and my upper lip was still resembling a furry caterpillar, I realised this was the norm. After 5 minutes of me saying “Moustache Off!” while using hand signals not too dissimilar to that of an out-of-mind German Leader in the 30’s and 40’s, he got the point. In a second, my ‘stache was removed, no lather this time but I was content and began to get up from my chair.

“Massage,” he proclaimed.

“No thanks”

“Yes! Head Massage.”

“No it’s okay.”

He looked at Sarah confused, Sarah looked at me to say, just say yes and it will be done. “Okay,” I hesitantly replied.

During the shave, people would stop and stare at the foreigner in the barbershop, so when Mr Barber reached for a drawer and pulled out a machine to attach to make his hand vibrate, even the workers next door put down their welder to watch. Vibrate is the wrong word. It was a mini jackhammer and he used it on my head, then folded each of my ears in half and held it there. It moved quickly towards my face to smash agains my nose as his thumb and forefinger pushed into my eyes, before heading down my arms to my fingers. There was tears from me between the laughter from Sarah. When he finished, he gave Sarah a one second massage on her hand to which she replied “Ow.” Not laughing now. I thought well it was an experience and gave him the 50 ruppees for the shave.

“No, 100! You had massage too!”

We laughed, paid and thanked him for adding even more fun to this great town. We ate a chilli rice dish on the banks of the river as the kids swam and played, while the women and girls would carry the piles of clothes on their head to wash. The rest of days would just involve walking around talking to everyone, taking photos and eating street food or a Dosai from our favourite restaurant. Eventually the time came to leave the main town and drive 45 minutes to the vineyards.

We stayed at Beyond, a hotel owned by the frontier of Indian wines, Sula. We had only tried their Chenin Blanc before we had arrived, but, after a swim, some snacks and some dinner, we had also tried the Sauvignon Blanc, the Riesling, the Sparkling, the Shiraz and the Cabernet Merlot. We went to bed a little merry. The wine was not too bad, some better than the others, but we still woke with taste in our mouth resembling the same taste after the 50p Port in Goa. It turns out there is only one way to handle a hangover in a vineyard. Cycle 3km for a wine tasting. When we arrived we were faint, so went to their French Indian fusion restaurant Soliel for lunch. Sarah stared at her veg burger while I devoured an incredible Prawn Ravioli in a bisque, flavoured with lemongrass.

By the time the wine tour was finished and a glass of our favourite, the Riesling, was consumed we had found our second wind. And it was only 4pm! We rode on back to beyond, but conveniently halfway home, someone had placed another vineyard, York Winery. We just had to try theirs, and what we discovered was their red wine completely out did Sula’s so we bought a bottle and smuggled it in to our room and ordered room service so they would never know.

We checked out the next day and had a few hours to kill. Since yesterday I was thinking about the Prawn Bisque so they kindly drove us back down to Soliel where we ate some more complemented by some cold glasses Riesling. Nasik had been the perfect ending to our amazing (at times roller coaster) journey around the sub continent. We saw so much but missed a lot as well. We are looking forward to returning to see our family in Southern India, and returning to Kerala as well as heading north to see more of Rajasthan and into the foothills of the Himalayas. But now, all we had to do was catch one train to Delhi before our flight to Nepal..

Okay, it didn’t turn out to be that easy. We promised ourselves we would never go back to poo smelly New Delhi. Unfortunately for us, I managed to somehow run into a language barrier with the UK Home Office, as I had been granted citizenship and needed to attend a ceremony. When my email (written in Australian) said Chennai or Kuala Lumpur, the person in charge read Delhi. So, it was sent there. So we had a 17 hour train journey to Delhi for the ceremony. The train ended up being 3 minutes shy of 24 hours and we were greeted at the station by a squatting male who decided to face the train on the adjacent tracks gifting us with a view that should only be seen – never. Ahh Delhi, we did not miss you.

A tuk tuk tried to hustle us, (sorry son we have been here before) so we got a prepaid and heard to Moustache Hostel to drop our bags and head to a shopping mall to get some supplies. Namely some Havainas that I had been nursing since Korcula and repaired in Karaikudi. All was going well as we jumped into the tuk tuk to head home. We made it a about 50 metres when a hundred or so guys descended on the other side of the road. They dragged sand bags to stop any oncoming traffic – then jumped the fence to our side. We were two vehicles back as they gathered together chanting, all the while growing angrier and angrier. We tried to ask our driver what was happening but he didn’t respond, instead he watched and smiled as the mob grew and grew. One of them spotted us in the back and walked over saying something to the driver, finishing his chat by pointing up ahead of the crowd and signalled with the international symbol of slicing a throat.

We asked again and he looked at us and pointed again along with the throat slit and seemed to tell the driver to get us out of there. Not sure if the group had killed someone or if we went through we would be attacked, we decided to ask the driver to leave. His approach was to turn of the engine and smile happily along, so we got out, wiggled through the traffic as most cars were also trying to leave the area and wandered back to the mall where we noticed armed police. We soon grabbed a driver and left, not knowing what happened but happy to have left.

We made it to the High Commision the following day where the happiest lady in Delhi swore me in as a dual-national on top of a (now pen sodden) Union Jack while a picture of Queen Lizzy looked on. Keen to celebrate the end of copious amounts of money spent, and the end of a five year process, we headed to a former colonial hotel to order a pint. There was no pint on offer, so Sarah ordered a G&T while I got to embarrass her by ordering a Martini, shaken not stirred.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe had a few beers that evening and packed our bags to leave New Delhi for good. We hope. Next stop Kathmandu.

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