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In a professional era characterised by creative dynamism and lapped by the growing waves of globalisation, there is a distinct fascination around the world with Gen Y, those people in their 20s who are beginning to join the world of work. For some, their experiences beyond education begin even before entrance into university in what is termed the ‘gap year’.

Having rose to eminence in the 1990s, the gap year involves taking a year off, often before or after studying in university. The period is traditionally furnished by backpack travelling, volunteer work and adventure tourism with India, South-East Asia and South America among the popular destinations. There are infinite possibilities with the globe rested alluringly at your feet and, for the late teenager beginning to acquaint themselves with their own character, this freedom is both a gift and a curse. It is this fragile interchange that lies at the heart of the gap year.

Over the past five years, over a quarter of British students have opted to take a year off, last year 160,000 students leaving college alone went out in search of sun, adventure and moral fulfilment. Gap years have yet to take off in India, with students reluctant to fragment the educational process with a year off, however they are by no means non-existent.

Wasted Gap Years?

But what is the real value for Gen Y as they roam across the globe, and how can the experience be tailored for maximum value? Having opted to take a gap year between school and university, I was wary of the continuing debate over the value of a gap year. Recently a spokesperson for the gap year planning company, Year Out, lamented that the majority of travellers “just go off and travel independently without any real purpose”. This judgement was potentially influenced by the rise of the ‘gap yah’ brigade, named as such because ‘yah’ is a posh pronunciation and reflective of the disproportionate amount of public-school educated students taking gap years.

The focus on public school students is explainable when you regard the costs of a gap year. Market researcher Mintel found that the average gap-year traveller spent up to £4,000 on each trip. Subsequently, a trend has emerged whereby middle-class students with access to larger funds are the most likely to elect for a gap year. This flamboyant social group has become the subject of parody in recent years and a YouTube clip emerged entitled ‘Gap Yah’ that ridiculed the culture of students travelling abroad for the sole purpose of getting drunk, attracting over 3,600,000 millions hits in the process.

Gap Yah

Indeed, in areas such as South-East Asia and South America, these ‘gap yahers’ have earned notoriety for their pursuit of hedonism. Amanda Miller, who worked as a bargirl in the gap year hot-spot Vang Vieng in Laos summed it up when she questioned the moral value of some travellers’ experiences. “Most people come for the sole purpose of getting drunk and letting loose, there was absolutely no interest in local culture. I’m not sure how people are meant to ‘find themselves’ in the bottom of a vodka bucket”, she sighed. A true manifestation of this hedonistic take on gap years is the Thai party island, Koh Phangan, which hosts monthly ‘Full Moon’ parties. Credited as the highlight for some gap year travellers, these parties last throughout the night and are a notorious haven for drugs, sex and violence with deaths as inescapable as the tides that lap the beach.

Professional worth

It is perhaps the popularity of the full moon parties and the emergence of this hedonistic culture as the fundamental drive for some gap year students that encouraged Mary Curnock Cook, the chief executive of the British body responsible for applications to universities, to call for a recalibration of priorities for people taking gap years. In her view the time for people to use gap years for a break to see the world was extinct. Gap years should instead be used strategically to gain experience to support a university application.

A survey undertaken by gap year organization company Projects Abroad went further and suggested that gap years hold real value for potential employers. Their research found that 60% of business managers believed taking a gap year to be just as important as a university degree when regarding possible interview candidates. They recognized the non-vocational worth of the gap yearer as they travelled and experienced different cultures, which could help develop crucial business skills such as leadership and organization.

It is no surprise that, while some gap yearers opt to sip sangria and gaze at the moon, others have kept a firm eye on the potentially daunting future of universities and job interviews. As a result, ‘voluntourism’ has emerged as a popular choice for students wishing to volunteer in their gap year. It was estimated that 500,000 students participated in volunteer schemes last year. This sector has developed volunteer projects ranging from teaching in Africa to conservation in South America. The company Projects Abroad features a number of opportunities in India, including the promotion and development of sustainable agriculture in South Indian villages. The catch? Being a volunteer is not cheap, the company ‘Real Gap Experience’ offers a three-week conservation placement looking after wild life in South Africa for £1,279 with flights included.

Voluntourism in Africa

Decisions, decisions

With the chilling possibility of my own gap year descending into a global booze cruise whispering seductively in my ear like the demonic Mephistopheles with Dr. Faustus, I was determined to use the time to build professional credentials and widen my global perspective. This was indeed my aspiration when I found myself staring into a vast, 15-month gap year that floated ominously like a black hole, barring my entrance to university. To follow the ‘gap yah’ brigade, cavorting their way across the South American wilderness, I perceived as a wasted opportunity. At 18-years-old, I had the opportunity to gain professional experience and credentials as a tool for differentiating myself in the increasingly competitive labour market. Last year graduate unemployment rates in Britain rose to 20%.

As an aspiring journalist I concluded that work placements in local publications across the globe would be a good opportunity for me to develop and harness my skills, but also creating a unique insight into the countries I would be working at as I interacted with them as a journalist. The locations were perhaps the easiest decision. In this era of globalisation, China and India have demanded the world’s attention for their spiralling rates of growth and increasing role in worldwide politics and economics. China has sustained an extremely high GDP growth rate averaging over 10% in the past ten years while India’s population has soared above 1.2 billion people this year and is expected to harbour the largest population by 2025.

The Dragon…

China’s distinct culture rendered it an enticing prospect to work in and, through Projects Abroad, I found a placement at Shanghai’s largest English speaking monthly publication, That’s Shanghai. The office was run predominantly by expatriates so contact with local Chinese was limited. Despite this, I observed first-hand the impact of the Chinese government at micro level when, before print, a government representative arrived to censor any necessary articles. Government censorship, I learnt, is a crucial factor in China’s creative industries. For example, the movie industry is highly constrained and potential film-makers face banned themes such as time-travel, propagating feudal superstitions and portraying ambiguous moral lessons. In our publication, an article on haunted routes in Shanghai had to be vetoed for fear of government intervention.

As irony would have it, having jumped ship on the gap yah booze cruise, my main role was writing on Shanghai nightlife. Rather than chained to the office desk, I found myself exploring the city’s jazz digs and futuristic roof top bars. As I met bejewelled club owners and interviewing up-and-coming DJs I discovered the city far more than if I had visited the land marks, fuelled the desperate drive for sight-seeing that accompanies most tourist holidays. Mingling with locals I also developed an understanding of China’s unique business culture, such as the importance of one’s reputation and the development of contacts or ‘guanxi’ as they’re known. All useful knowledge when you account for the 132,000 millionaires languishing in Shanghai.

Interning in a publication there is a responsibility to be proactive and create opportunities for yourself. Under the energetic policy of ‘take anything’, I was tasked with transcribing an hour-long interview with a local who had the comprehensibility of White Noise. Four laborious hours later and I was told it was for a half-page article. Developing this mentality to actively seize work I found was priceless experience, especially in professions like journalism where nothing comes free. Working in the exceptional Chinese environment was an opportunity to develop flexibility and, as the Chinese economy hurtles forward, experience with Chinese business is an invaluable asset for potential employers seeking to assault the Chinese market.

… and the Elephant


Continuing the trend of globe-trotting, I then alighted in India to work in Mumbai’s largest publication company Spenta Multimedia and later the English language daily newspaper, DNA. At Spenta, to provide the nautical theme for my personal ‘booze cruise’, I was placed on the editorial team for ‘India Boating’.

Commuting on the Mumbai trains to work (I was told afterwards there was an average of ten fatalities a day on the tracks) and interviewing for stories, I had the unique opportunity to experience India from a more localized perspective. Travellers who wrestle their way through hawkers in Connaught Place or queue outside the Taj Mahal for that perfect photograph for their desktop screensaver only view India from a distinctly outsider’s perspective. During my work, I found myself scrambling across Juhu beach in the company of crab catchers and being led through the creaking passageways of Crawford Market by a wizened guide. All two months without seeing a tourist.

Living as a local and being immersed in the eclectic Indian culture, meant I appreciated the country, in my opinion, far more than a gap year student’s typical foray across the Sub Continent. For prospective gap year students, the experience of working in a city is the best opportunity to put your ear to the ground and tailor the experience for your personal benefit rather than follow in the foot steps of a well-leafed guidebook.

The English factor

The defining factor of my trip observing the Elephant and the Dragon was the influence of my English nationality on people’s perceptions. England still holds ties with India, especially through the hysterically popular medium of cricket, but the overwhelmingly welcoming and positive response I received exceeded all expectations. While working for DNA newspaper, this novelty of nationality took a temporary turn for the worst. While attempting to interview a television actor over the telephone I started, “Hi this is Christian from DNA”. Without skipping a beat the actor replied, “yeah sure, and I’m Julia Roberts!” before abruptly hanging up. He had been deceived by my accent into thinking it was a prank call.

In China, the permeance of Western culture over the last decades (fast food outlet KFC has over 3,200 outlets across China) has led towards ingrained and positive assumptions of people from the West. Last year an underground industry was unearthed in China, whereby Western actors are hired by Chinese companies to pose as fake foreign executives working with the company. This appearance of collaborating with Western companies is perceived to show the business as international, well-connected and prestigious. One such actor even had to pose as the vice president of an Italian jewellery company and had to deliver a speech onstage about his pride in working with the Chinese company for ten years.

This overridingly positive perception of Westerners extended, in the case of a 19-year-old, to assumptions on business ability. Interning at a Chinese business publication, the college student was approached by a local colleague who proposed they started a business together. The colleague was essentially pitching his future on the assumption that, being from the West, my friend was a sure thing as a business associate. By my reckoning, the West has contributed tremendously more than their share towards the bubbling cauldron of global problems. But shhhh, don’t tell the Chinese otherwise the gig will be up and I won’t get the temporary job as vice president of an Austrian plastic manufacturer.

In the light of an increasingly globalized professional environment, my prediction is that more students will combine the prospect of travelling on their gap year with gaining work experience. Working in a foreign city provides priceless experience, both in terms of demonstrating flexibility and the opportunity to cultivate an exclusive and personal relationship with the city. My advice is to use every assignment in work placements as a chance to develop your experience and be open to a globalized society of flexibility and diversity of skills.


DNA- Bollyment

Meet India’s new Government cabinet, plucked from the ranks of Bollywood.


Activist Anna Hazare’s recent anti-corruption campaign attracted voluminous support from B-town. The Twittersphere was set alight with stars’ words of encouragement and exclamations of triumph. This begs the question, how would our very own B-towners fare, should they decide to hang up their acting boots for a dabble in politics?

Abhishek Bachchan Proposed position: Minister of Law and Justice

In movies such as Dhoom, Bachchan junior proved adept at playing a tough-talking cop dishing out cold slices of justice. After Bachchan tweeted on April 8, “Support MUST be in deed not just in thought”, what better way to lead by example than take up a position as Minister of Law and Justice?

After all Bachchan has already cosied up with the Narcotics Control Bureau. “The Bureau has been speaking to me for a long time to come and work with me,” Bachchan stated. The actor is not short of political motivation. “I believe in change, I believe in standing up for rights”, concluded the lawman.

Bipasha Basu Proposed position: Foreign Minister

Bipasha & Josh

Glamorous actor Basu has been following Hazare’s cause and the web was atwitter with her support. On April 9 Basu tweeted, “Corruption is our enemy… V need more leaders like Anna Hazare!” After her highly-publicized rapport with American star Josh Hartnett, Basu appears promising for overseeingIndia’s foreign relations.

The duo was recently spotted getting chummy on the set of Basu’s upcoming film, Singularity. Basu has already worked her magic. “Since Josh is an American he doesn’t know about cricket but I think we have him hooked and we watched the India-Pakistan cricket game together” she exclaimed. Anyone able to sell cricket to an American pledging their allegiance to baseball has my support.

Genelia D’Souza Proposed position: Minister of Propaganda


Actor D’Souza’s success in trending her new film Urumi across Twitter with tweets such as “Im goin 2feel urumi thru d ppl cant wait”, makes her a potentially valuable asset to the government in communicating with the public. She retweeted a link on April 6 described as “ a vry sensible & balanced take on Anna Hazare’s fast…” to show support.

“I think Twitter is the best medium to stay in touch with your fans and actually get a real-time response from people. It’s fast, convenient and very easy to use,” D’Souza advised. Hope you’re taking notes, Dr. Singh.

Priyanka Chopra Proposed position: Minister of Education

Chopra with Unicef

UNICEF Ambassador, a former Miss World; beauty Chopra appears the ideal role model for young Indians. On April 6 she tweeted applauding their participation, “What’s remarkable is the uprising of youth of our country in support of Anna Hazare”.

Chopra’s first port of call would be to encourage voting. “How can you just sit and complain the government is bad, you are educated and can steer the country the way you want. When I turned 21 the first thing I did was vote,” she urged.

Trade analyst Taran Adarsh had this to say of actors’ political prospects. “There have been many instances of Bollywood actors going into politics but I still feel that most Bollywood politicians aren’t as impactful, as they still maintain their work in Bollywood”, he concluded.

DNA- India an Anime Nation?

With talented script writers and keener audiences, Indian animated films can be more than just a flash in the pan.

In 2011 Indian cinemas will play host to a number of animated films, including Rango, Rio, and Japanese manga offering Sinchan, Bungle in the Jungle. And, for another year, Indian animated films will remain conspicuous for their absence. In the context of India’s highly-developed capabilities for animation production, this appears strange. After all, Indian animation played its hand in global film franchises such as Star Wars and The Mummy. However the domestic market is proving a tough nut to crack.

According to Ram Mirchandani, CCO of entertainment giant Eros, compared to the West the Indian audience is not yet suited to animated films. “The impression of animated films is that it’s for just for children and this alienates a huge movie-going audience.”

Director of 2008 animated offering, Roadside Romeo, Jugal Hansraj believes animation has a niche audience. “You can’t compare animation to a Bollywood film, it appeals to pockets of people.” This is illustrated in the box office performance of Roadside Romeo. At the time, according to Hansraj the film had grossed the most of any animation film in India, but this equated to a modest $55, 000.

Rajnish Arora, CCO of animation studio Source Animation, proposed Indian films are hampered by their plots. “We don’t have experienced animation writers and there is a lack of strong scripts” he suggested. Mirchandani supplemented this, “Animation films need interesting and smart scripts that involves audiences across age boundaries so children can bring their parents too.”

Director Anil Goyal is hoping his film Crackers will dispel perceptions of animation being just for children. Crackers, India’s first 3D stereoscopic film, is based on the 26/11 Mumbai terrorist attacks and features an animated take on Katrina Kaif. “Katrina is a well-loved actress and she looks equally pretty in animation” Goyal added.

Arora credited India’s current strength in production of animation. “We have fantastic production abilities to execute someone else’s ideas” he declared. India’s foreign appeal is also entwined in economics. The 12-16 hour work day of Indian animators equates to a faster turnaround for jobs and the rupee’s favorable exchange rate makes jobs comparatively cheaper. Goyal estimated 60% of Indian animators work for foreign companies.

In an interview with IANS, Ranvir Shorey, who has lent his voice in upcoming animation flick Rio, bemoaned the lack of budgets. “We need somebody with the right script and the producers who have faith to mount that kind of production because we definitely have the talent in India. We need more entrepreneurship from the production sector.”

Stars’ personal access to twitter means they have a chance to communicate with their followers in a genuine manner, and not through the mechanisms of a PR agency. While some Bollywood stars such as Salman Khan use this opportunity to provide fans with an intimate look into their personal lives and thoughts, there are others who have undertaken the role of their own PR agents and use the site for endorsements.

Last week model Genelia d’Souza accompanied the release of her movie debut, the Malayalam film Urimi, with a torrent of tweets including favorable reviews and positive feedback she had received for her performance. The campaign clearly worked, and ‘#Urimi’ became a trending topic on twitter. D’Souza triumphantly retweeted the statement, “Urumi is Trending on twitter [India Trends]. Wow. 😀 Thanks to all the fans who made it possible. You all rock! :-)”.

Followers of celebrities are also treated to surreal twitter conversations between stars. The rich and famous are hardly using twitter to save on phone bills so it is more likely the publicity of the tweets are used to subtly promote one another. Actor Dia Mirza is a large advocate of public correspondence and tweeted on March 31, “Here’s wishing @DuttaLara and her team of ‘Chalo Dilli’ the best! Trailer out today :)”. To which fellow actor Lara Dutta replied, “@deespeak. Thankyou my darling :-)”.

Meanwhile, movie star Bipasha Basu regularly endows her followers with links for trailers to her new movies and music videos. Director Farah Khan justified this by describing Twitter as the best way to get direct feedback from cinema lovers. “We are making films for them so it only makes sense to give them first access to our film promos and stuff”, she said.  

There is suggestion of Basu giving publicity to companies she works with. On March 8 she tweeted, “Say hello to @madowothair, the people behind my hair for the last six years.” Earlier this year English model Liz Hurley tweeted herself into trouble with the British Office of Fair Trade after she included numerous references to cosmetics company Estée Lauder in her tweets. UK regulations state that stars must indicate when their tweets are being sponsored by adding ‘spon’ or ‘ad’ and the trade office was attempting to crack down on product endorsements on Twitter. 

Over in America, an industry has grown out of tweeting and it recently emerged that Charlie Sheen, with 3,350,000 followers and counting, is being sponsored to tweet by American company Ad.ly. It has also been reported that the popular tweeter Kim Kardashian, sponsored by the same company, earns over $10,000 for every product tweet to her near seven million followers.

Despite the lucrative potential of tweeting there is no evidence that Bollywood actors tweet for cash, preferring it as a marketing tool and a communication platform for self-promotion. Actor Dino Morea sees nothing wrong in this. “Being very personalized Twitter gives me an opportunity to get up close and personal with my well wishers as well as people who want to know about my business venture”, he said.

Caped crusaders, masked defenders; since the surprise success of X Men(2000), Hollywood has been heaving with superheroes as comic books are scoured and franchises such as Batman are revived for an assault on the silver screen. With the impending release of Bollywood’s Ra. One, superheroes appear to be catching on in B-town. But is the industry suited to the lofty production costs and sensationalism of superhero flicks? Is villain-bashing in spandex an Indian audience’s cup of tea?

The rapturous reception Wolverine actor Hugh Jackman received on a recent visit to Mumbai hinted that Hollywood superheroes had infiltrated the Indian market. It is clear the younger generation of Indians is taken with the visual feasts of superhero films and the protagonists’ portrayal as upholders of moral justice makes them positive role models. Actor Shah Rukh’s decision to act in Ra. one supports this. “I am only doing this for my kids, Aryan and Suhana”, he said.

SRK, though, was quick to distance Indian superheroes from their Hollywood counterparts, “the stories will always be set in an Indian context and the audiences have grown up with different concepts and stories”. Both SRK and Hrithik Roshan, star of superhero flick Krrish, reported there was no Hollywood influence in their superhero characters. Roshan said, “Indians have grown up with tales of superheroes like Hanuman so, while Krrish may have all the powers of a typical western superhero, he was not inspired by any Hollywood superhero”.

Apparently little influence, but the box office success of Hollywood superheroes, equating to both The Dark Knight and Spiderman 3 residing amongst the world’s top twenty highest-grossing films of all time, has certainly been emulated in Bollywood. Bollywood offering Krrish grossed Rs 150 crore, making it the second highest Bollywood earner in 2006, while in 2010 Robot(Enthiran) smashed the Bollywood grossing record, making Rs 375 crore worldwide. It is clearly a lucrative genre, but Robot’s reported production cost of over Rs 150 crores represents a potentially risky investment.

Ra. one’s use of Hollywood specialists to train their VFX team indicates that Bollywood is not yet at the global forefront of VFX. Merzin Tavaria, Chief Creative Director of India’s largest VFX company Prime Focus, conceded that Bollywood required the specialist help of Hollywood VFX teams but remained ambitious for the future. “We have some catching up to do in terms of experience, but with our base in the key global markets, we are in a position to leverage that and share the knowledge to train our people.” Roshan reflects this optimism. “We have the best minds in the business so there’s no reason why we won’t be able to achieve the standards Hollywood has set for us.”

Star of up-coming superhero film, Doga, Kunal Kapoor joked that playing a superhero, “I will finally know what it feels like to wear my underwear over my pants.” This perception of superheroes is born out of the comic books many characters are taken from. With a relatively low comic book readership in India, however, inspiration appears taken from elsewhere. Recently, it was reported that actor Akshay Kumar would be playing a superhero inspired by Indian deity Hanuman while the title Ra.One is taken from the mythological antagonist ‘Rawana’ who appears in the Sanskrit epic Ramayana.

Bollywood superheroes are swooping in, and judging by reports, they will be loyal to India.

DNA- No Substitute for Experience

New Zealand’s thrilling victory over South Africa has proved that performing well in the latter stages of this World Cup is not all down to the cricketers’ skill. After all, the Proteas boasted the tournament’s third highest runs scorer in AB de Villiers (353) and spinners Imran Tahir and Robin Peterson are amongst the top five wicket-takers. In the heat and fierceness out in the middle at the Sher-e-Bangla National Cricket stadium reputations counted for nothing as South Africa collapsed under the pressure and extended their World Cup jinx to five losses in five consecutive knockout games.

Being in New Zealand’s position before the game-changing dismissal of Jacques Kallis, many teams would have resigned themselves to counting the overs until defeat. At the time, chasing 114 runs of 155 balls with eight wickets in hand is a small ask for a team boasting de Villiers and Kallis in their ranks. The upbeat body language of the Kiwis however, as they themselves around the field, suggested that they were playing until the Fat Lady sang.

This attitude was aided by the presence of World Cup veterans Jacob Oram and Daniel Vettori. The latter, New Zealand’s highest wicket taker in World Cup history with 35 wickets, produced a match-winning spell of 4/33 and took a magnificent catch to dismiss Kallis. Captain Vettori showed his commitment by playing despite a knee injury and his proactive captaincy in rotating the bowlers and tinkering with the field displayed that he was always on the hunt for a wicket. Their presence and self-belief helped to electrify the younger players and Martin Guptill especially looked like a man possessed as he dived and leapt at cover before running out de Villiers.

In contrast South Africa’s spectacular batting collapse of losing eight wickets for 64 runs were the symptoms of a team unguided and unfamiliar with victory. Batting in his efficient manner, Kallis (47) looked set to bring the Proteas home but gave his wicket away playing a needlessly aggressive hook. The rate required was below five and needed Kallis only to maneuver singles and not go for the big shot. The tremors of this dismissal reverberated down the batting line-up and J.P. Duminy was clearly spooked when he played all around a straight delivery from Brendan McCullum. Playing in his first World Cup, Faf du Plessis was arguably the most affected when he ran out de Villiers (35) chasing a panicky and non-existent run.

The success of New Zealand has demonstrated that knock-out stages require the team’s more experienced members to stand up and lead from the front. Some players might get caught up in the moment and try to smack the ball out of the park or bowl a magical ball when all that is required is calmness and consistency. Tendulkar and Dhoni can take a leaf out of the Kiwi’s book in Mohali on Wednesday. In the high-strung affair not only will the eyes of the nation be on these players, but also the eyes of their teammates.

Costa Rica’s picturesque coast


Holding off the cowboy capitalists of the USA to the North, and the untamed South American wilds to the South, Costa Rica has blossomed as a holidaying spot ideal for rekindling your passion with earth’s natural beauty. Whether it’s a weekend fling or a strung-out affair, its expansive beaches and smouldering volcanoes are the perfect setting for a romp with Mother Nature.

Mixed Signals


"The city has swelled doggedly across the Costa Rican plains..."


Arriving into the Costa Rican capital of San Jose, you could be forgiven for querying the country’s much flaunted role in preserving natural beauty and promoting eco-tourism. The city has swelled doggedly across the Costa Rican plains, accompanied by pollution, poverty and a generous sprinkling of crime. The chain-link fences and grubby sidewalks reveal nothing of Costa Rica’s open and friendly soul, treat the city as a fortified gateway into the Garden of Eden.

If you’re in the market for a side entrance, the multinational Marriot Hotel beckons. A 5km ride from San Jose’s international airport, the hotel was built on a coffee plantation. The bulk and splendour of its architecture are a nostalgic nod to a grand colonial villa, with nightly rates starting from $189.

Marriot Hotel, Costa Rica


Nevertheless, don’t regard a stay in the city as a prison sentence. For all its intimidating chaos San Jose is not uninteresting; its furnace burns with a fiery passion, stoked by the vivaciousness of its inhabitants. To dip your toe into these untamed rapids head to Centro Commercial El Pueblo, a lively sanctuary for San Jose’s creative body and a chance to get your hips swaying to the rampant beats of Central American music.

Baptism of Fire 




Arenal Volcano

150km North-West from San Jose, navigating over Costa Rica’s notoriously jerky and treacherous roads, lies the charming town of La Fortuna. Like a reserved younger sibling it has passed its days in the overbearing shadow of its raucous elder brother, Arenal Volcano. The conical colossus brushes aside swathes of greenery to rise majestically into the skyline, rumbling sullenly like the deep slumber of a mythological beast. Such a spectacle, though, is not marred by inaction. Being amongst the world’s ten most active volcanoes, Arenal spews regular pillars of ash which surge upwards like heavenly columns and its eerily luminous lava flows enchant the night sky.

Nestled in a bed of tropical flora and boasting sweeping views of the volcano, the Springs Resort and Spa is a luxurious perch from which to marvel Arenal. For the ultimate spa experience visit nearby Tabacon Hot Springs, this resides amongst the world’s top spas thanks to its extensive accommodation of nature into treatments. For example its thermal springs are nourished by underwater currents of water, which are heated by magma and flow through the spa’s network of cascading waterfalls and serene pools.

Tabacon Hot Springs


If the idea of relaxation is about as appealing as a bed of nails, Arenal’s surrounding national park is a treasure trove for hikes. Some of which flirt with danger as they traverse the jagged remains of Arenal’s previous lava flows, www.arenal.net is a hub of information and allows for easy planning. 

In Cloud Nine

The Cloud Forests


To lay further toils upon the undoubtedly remorseful suspension system of your transportation, the short trip to Monteverde town is crowned by a viciously winding and unpaved road that lurches erratically through throngs of jungle. Suspended 3,000ft above sea level, Monteverde has retained a sense of humbleness in the wake of invading tourist armies. The most pleasant accommodation can be found in the Hotel El Establo, a three star affair with spacious and well-furnished suites. As a tip of the hat to Costa Rica’s eco-friendly contingent, the hotel employs a body of solar panels and integrates locally-grown produce into its menu.

Having established base camp, you can then venture into the mysterious grasp of the cloud forests which envelop Monteverde. Named for the lingering presence of clouds in their canopy due to high altitude, Santa Elena and Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserves are some of Costa Rica’s most diverse habitats and a nature enthusiast’s paradise. Alongside a resident population of 120 mammal species and perched amongst the aesthetic tangle of vines, mosses and branches are small gems of colour constituting the lively and diverse bird population. With any luck, you might have the pleasure of spotting the Resplendent Quetzal, which earns its name with a sizeable tail feather encased in emerald green.

Thanks to a heady abundance of moisture, paths through the forest can be treacherous and branches scrape against you like the gnarled limbs of the undead. Tour guides are a sensible option, with www.monteverdetours.com providing bilingual and experienced guides starting from $55 per person. To add some spice to your adventure, horseback tours can be organised from the hotel and, like the Ewoks from Star Wars, Monteverde Sky Trek have erected a labyrinth of walkways and zip lines in the jungle canopy to clamber and howl your way through. Undoubtedly such strenuous exertions require a caffeine boost and centrally-located Café Monteverde is at hand, serving organic coffee grown in nearby plantations.

Surf’s Up

Nicoya’s peninsula


For those yearning the path less trodden and would bring brushes to ‘paint the town red’, the North-Western peninsular of Nicoya has survived relatively unscathed from the legions of freaks, surfer-dudes and hippies who have descended upon Costa Rica’s beach scene over the last two decades. To swap a Cuba Libre for a quite beach day, you could do worse than arriving on the doorstep of cosy Nosara.

Governed by a Triumvirate of beaches Nosara is a haven for relaxation, offering serene fishing spots and a unique setting for its popular yoga culture. The area’s natural beauty has been protected devoutly by locals and the beaches’ bordering forests are a picturesque backdrop, as well as being home to a diverse animal population. For elegantly designed rooms that draw you into the ease of Nosara life, The Harmony Hotel pledges alluringly to get you “in tune with your natural rhythm”. With seven kilometres of Playa Guiones’ ivory sand languishing nearby, which also boasts waves that are folklore amongst surfers, the hotel would appear to have the tools to get tuning.

Paridisus found




If your pursuit of luxury is an activity untainted by half-measures then you won’t find much better than the Paridisus Playa Conchal. The vast shrine to lavishness and refined indulgence is an idyllic ride up the Gold Coast from Nosara. The luxury resort has an array of beautifully designed accommodation options, an 18-hole golf course and a pool large enough to fit Tendulkar’s fan mail. Plus, at 2,400 acres, it’s easy to get Lost in Paridisus. You may want to ration your wanderings though, as some room rates clamber over the $1,000 a night mark.

A stone’s throw from the resort stretches the Mecca of Costa Rican beaches, Playa Conchal. With sands as white as a Californian’s teeth and waters with the clarity of their camera phones, Playa Conchal has become the go-to destination for snorkelling. It would be a mortal sin not to slap on the ol’ mask and snorkel for a foray into its glassy tropical waters.

Jungle Fever

A gigantic leap southwards from Nicoya peninsula, over a stretch of Pacific Ocean, another fragment of Costa Rica juts out distinctively. The Osa peninsula may not offer an album of screensaver beaches but it has some of the most striking and diverse natural habitats, personified by the Parque Nacional Corcovado. The park is an eclectic jumble of jungles, rainforests and swamps splayed across 42,000 humid hectares of natural splendour. The range of eco-systems attracts enough furry, feathered and scaly inhabitants to keep the most devoted of wildlife fanatics busy. Whether it’s providing nesting spots for the Harpy Eagle or maintaining the endangered Central American Jaguar, the park has a crucial role in preserving some of Costa Rica’s finest natural assets.

Parque Nacional Corcovado

Going Caribbean

The previously neglected East coast of Costa Rica removes the peel of high-end hotelery to reveal simple lodgings and a marvellously laid back way of life. Hugging the Caribbean sea the coastland yields some breath-taking beaches, crowned by clusters of coconut trees. To surrender yourself to the chillaxed vibes of Afro-Caribbean culture head to Manzanillo, you won’t be getting Swiss chocolates on your hotel bed sheets but the living is authentic and a homage to the charms of a simple life.

East Coast Life

One such hotel, Almonds and Corals, offers palm-roofed tents connected by wooden walkway and is a true exponent of eco-culture. Some of its tours on offer include dolphin-spotting, bicycle tours but the most unique is a trip to visit the Indian villages of the Amubri, Bribari and Cachabri tribes. A fulfilling and culturally-enlightening activity. Staying on the East Coast is a less-refined experience, but what’s an eco-holiday without the dirty fingernails?




Once the arteries of imperialism, the Indian railway exudes a raw charm, derived from its imperfections. From its open doorways to six hour delays, nothing beats a ride on the Indian express. Set off with an open mind, and prepare for a few diversions. 

Delhi- The journey’s starting point and a baptism of fire for the newly-initiated tourist. In order to tackle Delhi’s plethora of sights, hire an all-day cab driver from your hotel. Bask in the meditative aura of the Lotus temple and accustom yourself with the Hindi gods in Lakshmi temple. Be prepared to wrestle against some of India’s most persistent hawkers, silence is the best option. 

AgraThe home of the Taj Mahal and its voluptuous curves. Wake up at 6am to view this milky-white wonder with the sun on her back, and get the perfect desktop photo. A half-hour cab ride away is the hauntingly deserted Fatehpur Sikri. The sandstone city was abandoned in 1599, after only 14 years of habitation, due to the lack of a water supply. 


Jaipur- A vibrant and chaotic city, Jaipur is coined the ‘pink city’ because it decorated its buildings in pink to welcome Queen Elizabeth II in 1876. Nowadays, such sights are rare but the pyramid-shaped palace of Hawa Mahal is an architectural feat to marvel. Sample Rajasthan’s distinctive dishes such as Gatte Ki Sabji, a rolled paste of chickpea flour and curry. 

the palace of the winds

Ajmer– Ajmer is a comparatively serene city, religiously significant because it houses a shrine to the Muslim prophet Mu’īnuddīn Chishtī. 11km away is the lakeside town of Pushkar, with 500 temples to accommodate the Hindi pilgrims who come to bathe in its lake and cleanse their sins. Unfortunately, the lake is now dried-up, after the local government dug up the lake bed, but its beauty remains. 

Pushker's dry lake

Jodpur– Jodpur holds the title of ‘blue city’, thanks to a sea of painted blue houses around the Mehrangarh Fort, a hill-top fort that is one of the largest in India. Get lost in the labyrinth of Jodpur’s markets, where you can browse the colorful array of hand-dyed fabrics. To escape the city, venture into the desert by camel and camp overnight in the dunes to catch a desert sunrise.

Udaipur-Udaipur has earned its title of Venice of the East because it is situated on a cluster of lakes. The city’s previous role as capital of the Merwar kingdom has yielded a number of majestic palaces. The most prominent of which, the Lake Palace hotel, is a five star hotel on its own island. The carvings adorning Jagdish Temple are a wondrous spectacle and the entrance is guarded by two stone elephants.

The city of lakes

Mumbai– Be wary of arriving into Mumbai too early, otherwise you’ll catch the city with its pants down, literally. The railway tracks are a communal toilet for local’s early-morning bowel movements. Dhobi Ghaut, where the city’s laundry is washed by hand, is a uniquely Indian spectacle. At night, take a taxi across the Bandra Worli Sea Link to look back on the city from the sea. Colaba’s art stores are a chance to pick up unique pictures, some of which have been painted with a single squirrel hair.

Dhobi Ghaut, Mumbai's laundromat

Sleeper train: Jaipur to Mumbai

The train itself was sectioned into a range of different classes and the quest for the right carriage was a journey in itself. I was momentarily joined by the ‘flying Dutchman’,  a tourist from Holland who had occupied the previous half hour sprinting desperately across the platform, occasionally leaping onto what he thought was the right carriage before emerging seconds later, beaten back by a group of squabbling locals. As his panic mounted, the scene offered a small allegory for the Dutch colonial success in India.
I eventually found my carriage, which had been given the title of 3AC and thus housed a primitive ventilation system and a bunk bed comprising three platforms. The twist being that, by day, the middle bunk was temporarily retracted, making a back rest for passengers sitting on its bottom counterpart. This set-up inadvertently created a silent and strategic contest as to who would seize the top bunk. Other passengers had already laid weak territorial claims with the use of bags or by ostentatiously reviewing its mattress, but experience had taught me that these were mere frivolities and bore no influence on the eventual outcome.
I concluded that Machiavellian guile would be best-suited to the situation and so, feigning a visit to the toilet, I waited until relevant guards had been lowered, and scrabbled up the ladder and onto the top bunk. Gracious in defeat, the other contenders accepted the return of their baggage as the olive branch of peace, leaving me free to turn my attention to the fact it was only 8.30pm and I still had all three of the bunks’ bedding, sandwiched between my calf muscles.
Having severed diplomatic ties with my section of the carriage, I turned to the Eastern front for a means of depositing the, seemingly, goat-haired blankets. From my perch, I could make out a suitable space on the other bunk and, leaning across, placed my offering at the feet of its slumbering occupant. My assumptions that the recipient’s sleep would be long-lasting proved incorrect and, when I returned from the train‘s kitchen, the blankets had been stacked innocuously by my pillow.
Although his features betrayed little, I recognised the subtle invitation and, when he was forced to heed nature’s call, I readdressed the temporarily skewed balance by returning the pile. Defiant in the face of my advantageous high ground, he retaliated as soon as the situation allowed it and this war of attrition continued late into the night. As it breached 2am the effects were beginning to show on the carriage, blankets were strewn haphazardly across the theatre of conflict and, mercifully, a silent truce was agreed.
This, however, was by no means the end, and he exacted his revenge minutes later where, amongst the demonic orchestra of snores, his chainsaw-like offering distinguished itself in both pitch and tone.
The seventeen hour journey from Jaipur to Mumbai was buoyed by the train’s primary asset of doors which could be retracted when the train was in full flight. Undeterred by the 200 rupee fine (£2.80) , passengers used the area as a smoking section. The most prolific amongst this gathering were the train’s kitchen staff, whose professional perks included an uncontested position at the helm of the doorway.
During the quieter hours, the doorways offered an enclosed insight into rural India. If you can tolerate the track’s occasional encounters with gaping ravines, the mosaic of scenery is a stark contrast to the overflowing hue of cities. Glimpses of life present themselves in clusters of crude, wooden huts or the rhythmic bobbing of a farmer.
My position was located near the train’s kitchen and, during a routine night time stop, a band of country folk emerged from the veils of darkness surrounding the train. As I watched them clamber on, they were led, as if by natural intuition, to the awaiting cooks. After a round of handshakes, the visitors were handed the neatly-wrapped leftovers from dinner before returning into the night. The evidence was not conclusive enough to suggest a regular occurrence, but I feared the one-sided nature of the deal left the recipients in a precarious position, should there be a next time.
The breaking of dawn saw the surrounding bunks twitch into motion before the, now calming, sound of snores were replaced with awkward and ungainly shuffling that suggested the approach of Mumbai. I reached the doorway in time to see that the train was heading southwards through the city, and away from my flat in the suburbs. Having deemed my seventeen hour sentence as sufficient to experience the sleeper train and noticing the train had reached a manageable pace, I threw my bag onto the tracks before following shortly.
As I looked around for the recognisable features I had grown accustomed to in my previous stay, I noticed that I had caught Mumbai at a particularly vulnerable moment. The local men were firmly accustomed with the guilty pleasure of the early morning shit and had, for some reason, chosen the railway tracks as deserving of their waste. Whether as a sign of protest or appreciating the element of danger, the established technique seemed to be to squat directly over the train line, and the orderly line followed the track as far as my stomach would allow my eyes to see. With head firmly down, I passed in between a momentary gap and, seeing the relieved face of someone who had thought I was going for his spot, continued into the city.

Catching Crabs in Mumbai

During the afternoon, at low tide, the sea retreats across the Mumbai shore line, leaving in its wake a jagged wilderness of rocks and stranded fishing boats. Although the terrain is particularly muddy, I had made a business investment of two hundred rupees to buy a box of equipment for a persistent shoe-shiner which, he reliably informed me, would propel him into a new league of shoe-cleaning. This also meant that, thanks to some fine print I had added in the deal, my shoes would enjoy his services free of charge and I thus had a blank cheque with regards to where I walked. He had originally tried to escape his charge by hiding out in Burger King and dimly-lit alleyways, but I had contacts in the shoe business and was determined to get all of the one hundred cleans which would constitute breaking even on my investment.

I was thus able to trudge confidently across the rocky beaches, a band of some of Mumbai’s numerous wild dogs momentarily joined me and I passed a policeman pissing nonchalantly across a boat’s hull. A sight, I thought, that might interest the graffiti-artist Banksy for his next work of art. This relative calmness was broken by the shouts of a few locals, who scampered towards me waving their arms. At first, I saw this as a warning sign that I had inadvertently strayed into gangland dog territory, and indeed the dried coils of shit placed tactically across rocks supported this theory.

(At this point, I would like to deter those who, thanks to the title, thought the story was heading in a different direction. You may depart, and shame on you…)

As the crowd drew closer, I noticed the plastic bags that were dangling threateningly by their sides and reassessed my original feeling of gratitude to them. But when the bags were opened, rather than the novelty junk I had expected, I was confronted by a seething mass of crabs. As appetizing as it was, seeing them silently fighting for their lives, I trusted neither my culinary ability nor my flat’s medieval pot to cook them, and turned down the opportunity of a purchase. I was more interested in the group that roamed the shores to find them.

Their ringleader, who also held the title of eldest, sported an authoritative moustache to show for his seniority. Whilst he preferred to operate as a lone wolf, the other three kept together and so I followed their lead as they crouched next to a large rock. The most obvious mark of their profession was a thin metal pole with a jagged hook on the end, which they brandished with the pride of a toddler holding a toy sword. As I soon discovered, this tool was thrust and jammed around the gaps between the rocks and beach, like someone picking a lock.

This activity went on for some time and, just as I had begun to lose interest, the pole was swiftly withdrawn to show a medium-sized crab flailing helplessly, its shell caught on the hook. From other viewings, and with the benefit of some theatrical hand movements, I worked out that the technique was to use the hook to taunt the crab as it lay in hiding and, once it had clamped the pole with its claw, to pull it out into the open. For more passive crabs, the claws were bypassed and the hook went straight for their hard exterior to latch onto an edge or gap. Once the crab was exposed in the open, another member ripped off the right claw impassively and jammed it between the crab’s shell and its left claw to nullify any risk to the fingers.

Thanks to a translational error, I had been given the name of Ocross, and I unconsciously fulfilled its prehistoric connotations as I scrabbled across the rocky landscape to keep up. One thing that interested me was the disparity in techniques. One member, who was known as the beggar due to his lack of success, was very tender with the movements of his pole and whispered gently to the rock as if reciting an ancient incantation. On the other end of the scale, the youngest hopped from nook to cranny with lightning speed and was so prolific that he had become a veritable danger to the beach’s crab population.

During a more prolonged hunt, the team had become so desperate that they had turned to my relative inexperience to remove a particularly stubborn crab. It was then, as I was forced onto my hands and knees to rummage into the far reaches of the rock’s underbelly, that another tourist appeared on the scene. Vulture-like, he had circled the group, but I was glad to see the loyalty displayed by my compatriots and his infiltration efforts were in vain. As he began to retreat to the path, I felt a tug from inside the rocks and pulled out the pole to reveal this brute of a crab clinging desperately to the hook.

As ‘the beggar’ tore off its right claw impassively, I saw a small wave of hesitancy flash across the outsider’s face. Sensing an opening, I pressed home the advantage and, wild-eyed with my hunting success, I gave him a look to say, “yes my friend, this is how we roll.”

Mumbai may be a city of diversity but there is no doubt that it is united under the language, and in some cases religion, of cricket; it is everywhere and it is huge. Cricket is a sport that knows no boundaries and the innovation of its disciples means that no open space is safe from their nomadic reach. Groups of players can be seen wandering from street to car park, bat in hand, searching for the next fix.

Whilst most surfaces are tolerated, there is a preference for would-be cricketers to flock to the many city parks, or maidans as they‘re known locally. As a result, daily attendance can easily breach the hundreds, and the relatively small grounds become so packed that games often overlap. One of the most popular venues is the southern-located Oval Maidan, where the matches are presided over by a horizon of prestigious buildings.

Although an attempted flying dismount from the train had left me with a reluctant ankle, I had been enticed by the ‘gateway drug’ of street cricket and, soon enough, found myself staggering across the Oval on the lookout for a game. My enthusiasm was there, but I had failed to observe the unofficial dress code of all-white kit, and my yellow shorts did me no favors amongst the traditionalists.

Fortunately, I spotted a group of ‘plainclothes’ who had been exiled from the good pitches and had settled instead on a cordoned-off section by the fence. The players’ liberal attire was also reflected in their attitude, and my approach was greeted as if I were an old friend. Soon enough, I was thrown the ball expectantly and, with the pride of a nation at stake, I bowled a shapely full-toss which was punished to the far-reaches of the park. My second ball suffered the same fate and I had to wait some time before I was given an opportunity to make amends.

Following in the same trend as my last deliveries, my next ball drifted lazily through the air. But at this point, the balaclava-clad batsman had let his confidence get the better of him and, having dodged past his wild swing, the ball thudded into the garbage bin which represented the wicket. Riding this wave of form, I seized the bat from him and eyed up his cock-eyed companion whom I assumed would be doing the bowling.

What I had failed to acknowledge was the monster that they had been preparing out of my line of sight and was now being summoned by his keepers to exact revenge on my British heritage. There was a fire in him which I knew, all too well, would only be extinguished by my tears of submission. He now held in his hand a prototype ball which lethally combined the bounce of a tennis ball with the hardness of a cricket ball.

With my protection comprising what was effectively a small stick, I desperately searched for any kind of natural armor in the bushes, but he was already galloping in. A black crow flew ominously across the pitch and, as the first ball whistled an inch past my hip, I finally understood that he was targeting my family tree and planned to erase any chances I had of having children. He was toying with me before he went in for the kill. His second delivery sailed over my head and it was only the fourth time lucky that he struck gold in the form of my ribcage.

Leaving me precious few minutes to recover, I was then drafted into the match that, apparently, being hit in the ribs constituted training for. The captain placed me in an innovative fielding position which saw my head stationed four inches away from the temperamental bat of a neighboring  match. I was further inspired when, later on, I noticed that the opposition had placed their oldest and most rotund player in the same position.

The standard of cricket was surprisingly high and every mistake was taken collectively to heart by the whole team. There was no room for baggage and, when I dropped a catch, I was viewed by an older player as if I had just emptied a bag of shit at his feet. I began to recognize that the manifesto for batting was ‘hit out or get out,’ and the path that wound through the park was consistently peppered by monstrous shots. I pitied the fielder who was placed in that particular firing zone, but his commitment was such that, when one ball was struck in his direction, he was so intent on catching it that he backed into a book stall by the path, scattering fake copies of War and Peace as he fell.

As it grew darker I kept expecting the game to be called off, but it was only after every movement became a gamble as to where the ball would land that we finally trooped back. As was tradition, we headed to the maidan’s pavilion. Or rather behind it, where there was a small crowd gathered round a simmering vat of tea. The cauldron belonged to a permanently cheerful local, who was introduced as something of a legend. As proof, he was surrounded by an assortment of newspaper clippings which pictured him with identical smiles and different Indian celebrities, including members of the national cricket team.

Before I left, one of the players put his fatherly hand around my shoulder and, unknowingly dismissing my ten years of experience, asked, “so Christian, how did you enjoy your first game of cricket.”

Training Day


Having endured a torrid first date, I have found a hidden gem in the Indian train service. But before this is dismissed as another homage to the relics of imperialism, hear me out.

Its appeals come from where it differs from its chubby and unreliable British counterpart.

Whilst any London commuters are regarded with eternal taboo if they brandish their elbows during the boarding process, a liberal forearm and a Rambo attitude are essential to have any chance of reaching the haven of the Indian railway carriage. The boarding technique preferred by locals is ‘the lion,’ where, having selected a carriage with suitably weak occupants, they chase it down across the platform until the train reaches a manageable speed to leap onto.

If you survive this process then you become accepted into the carriage community and are free to enjoy its membership benefits. An array of downward-facing fans provide the ventilation, but this is often not sufficient for some and there is stiff competition for places around the two-metre long open doorway. This prime spot has the benefits of a breeze and, at times, several people plunge their faces out of any available gaps to relish in the swirling air, whilst avoiding electricity pylons in the process. There is also a general consensus to beat a hasty retreat every time the train passes over the river of open sewage.

Due to the competition for places during rush hour, some mavericks take this pastime of ‘breeze riding’ to the next level and use the barred windows as a foothold to ride on the outside, clinging to any feature of the train that will have them. Fortunately, the Mumbaikers are more accommodating than their iron mount and one particular local took it upon himself to ensure the safety of his travelling companion by cradling him around the waist with his arms.

When they are not re-enacting scenes from the Titanic, commuters content themselves with watching the passing scenery, whilst some even burst into song. During one journey I was treated to a tear-jerking rendition of ‘Ain’t no Sunshine’ by the 50 year-old businessman, standing next to me who, I can safely say, had the sweetest voice in the Sub-Continent.

Things were not always so dandy.

On my first attempt, as a Virgin to the train etiquette, I saw a carriage that was only defended by a skeleton guard of Indian women. My luck had finally turned and I could avoid the wild rush going on around me. But as I got on I was immediately greeted by the shoos and hisses of a mob of female suffragettes who, led by a wrinkled reincarnation of Emily Pankhurst herself, forced me off the carriage. It later transpired that women had several carriages to themselves, probably to protect them from the boarding frenzy.

Fortunately I learnt this lesson before the arrival of the Pune express, a train made up of an entirely female contingency, and my attempts to board it would have appeared to the locals as a sex-starved tourist, desperate to get on to this mythological entity. It was factors out of my reach that had saved that train from certain boarding and as it danced gaily past, I set my sights on its successor.

Having already seen two legitimate trains escape my clutches, I was determined not to let the next fish get away. I selected a relatively empty carriage, that also appeared to be mixed, and tightened my grip for the long haul as the first signs of dissaproval, which at this point seemed inevitable, manifested themselves in the around me.

As the red mist descended and my knuckles whitened, I hung on amidst a growing chorus of unrest and it was only a particularly well-placed tug from one of the vigilantes who had gathered outside the carriage that dislodged me from my perch.

It was then, from this new perspective and with logic slowly returning, that I saw an indiscreet sign which showed that the carriage was reserved solely for disabled people and cancer patients.

With my tail between my legs I withdrew to the refuge of a cab, but I would be back. After all it is ten pence to ride anywhere in the city.

After seeing off the first assault of jet lag, bereft of any basic supplies and with ‘first-day explorer syndrome’ pulsing through my veins, I decided to extend my knowledge of Bandra beyond the cramped window of a taxi. A prestigious member of the ‘burbs, it had grown northward from the historic centre of Mumbai and was to be my haunting spot for the next month.

It took only a few chaotic minutes and a barrage from the local fruit-selling, Armani-wielding populous to convince me that, despite my best efforts, I could not go it alone and would need to recruit the aid of a local. Not only to help with general navigation, but also to sift through the hundreds of street vendors to find the most reputable source of food in an area where KFC was the landmark culinary establishment pointed out to me by my landlord.

Such a bill-fitter came in the unlikely form of Ravi, a novelty map seller who, still ruing the day he had given the finger to his waiter friends in favour of the alternative market for illustrated maps, was more than happy to throw off their laminated shackles. If nothing else then to placate the voice in his head, on a continuous loop saying “you should’ve slept on it mate…”

As a guide he was one of the most genuinely nice people I’ve met, despite that fact that he had the misfortune to look like an Indian version of Gareth from The Office. His voice filled with unadulterated regret when he spoke of the squalor which many of the locals lived in. Pointing out small patches by the road with only a dusty sheet to qualify them as houses.

Having never been to any form of school, Ravi had picked up Englishfrom his time in Delhi. Something which had proved an invaluable asset in the face of a merciless job market that did not look fondly on his lack of educational credentials. It also had its use in luring foreign dickheads to their demise at the hands of an over-friendly tailor. Dickheads like me.

But today was not such a day and, having escorted me to one of the few restaurants with roofs in the area and refusing any financial embellishment, he pledged to return in an hour to take me to his house. Although I didn’t know what to expect, I had an inkling that I could put my call to MTV cribs on hold.

As promised, he returned with minutes to spare and we set off on the long walk to the West side of Bandra. An area, I would later discover, that had a formidable slum population and was separated from its Eastern equivalent by a long railway bridge that was a hub of activity for beggars, hawkers and commuters alike. Crossing onto the other side I could detect no noticeable difference from the roads I had walked down before and it was only when we parted company with the main road into terra incognita that the stakes were raised.

Furnished by an alleyway that would be stretched to fit a well-sized American, the houses were intimately spaced to say the least. As particularly graphic scenes from City of God raced through my head, I reached into my pocket to fashion a home-made knuckle duster out of my flat keys, should the need arise. I also inched slightly closer to my guide, but without partaking in the exercise of ‘bromance’ that saw a number of Indian men holding pinkies through the streets, oblivious to any homosexual connotations.

My fears were, of course, unfounded and the only threats came in the form of passive women washing their clothes outside and the walls of smiles from the children who rushed to shake my hand and wish me a happy new year.

After a few minutes of walking we arrived at his pad, which distinguished itself from its neighbours only by the crackling din of a device that barely scraped the definition of a television. Apart from the fan, this was the only electrical device in the single-roomed house, and the only other furnishing was a tottering shelf with piles of metal pots balanced on top.

In one corner, the concrete wall bore the mark of a younger member of the family, who had tacked up any stickers he could find. Unfortunately for him, this meant that the corner was covered by a horde of lesser-successful Disney characters, and, for some reason, Tom Jones. If I returned, I resolved to bring a true ambassador of the Westside to the dilapidated walls, Tupac Shakur.

Eclipsing all of these features, and on the wall opposite the entrance, a plaster shrine to the Hindu God Ganesh revelled in its modest surroundings. Besides it, and sitting comfortable on a thin rug that also seemed to double as the bed, was the older brother who was intently watching a fuzzy screen which occasionally resembled a game of cricket.

Finally, as I removed my shoes, I was also greeted by the mother, who paused from washing the family’s clothes in one of the pots to offer the traditional Hindu greeting of pressed hands and a bowed head. Other than that, she was seemingly oblivious and treated the situation as if it were a daily occurrence.

Drawn in by the black and white cricket, I took my seat on the rug and watched as the two brothers had a quiet conversation which ended abruptly in the older one getting up to leave. As he did so I immediately regretted my decision to accept the offer of the communal cushion from behind his back, thinking that this was the cause of his departure. But, waving away any apologies, he left with a knowing smile.

During his departure, the hospitality of the family was made evident to me by the increasing array of offers poured on me, from drinks to full-on meals. I politely declined, conscious of the how little the family had. A crowd of young children had also gathered around the window and door and, despite the best efforts of my host to get rid of them, persevered, desperate to know what I thought of MS Dhoni or if I liked their trainers.

I answered the crowd as best I could and it was only the return of the older brother that ceased the question time, he had brought a coke with him from the local convenience store. Relatively, it was quite a small token, but the fact that Ravi told me, with a hint of regret in his usually passive voice, that his mother was going out begging soon made it seem like one of the most generous offering I’ve had, Any of my protests were resolutely dismissed and, reminding me that I was a guest in his house, he passed it over.

I spent another couple of hours in the room, in which I was also persuaded to have some of the bread, but eventually the time came to leave. Promising to come for a game of cricket later in the week, I started off on the long walk home, humbled by the kindness and good will of a slum-dweller.

Travelling through Mumbai is like nothing you could ever have imagined.

My steed was a black and yellow FIAT which looked as if it had driven straight out of 1970s Havana and boasted, amongst other gadgets, a solitary light bulb. However, by far the one accessory which interested the driver the most was the high pitched horn which acted as an outlet for his frustration and was thus used generously. In fact
most drivers shared this partiality and the overall effect was that of an urban rainforest with the mating calls of Honda Civics piercing through the dry air in a never-ending chorus.

The roadside scenery was littered with piles of rubble which, in places, were being tenderly transferred into dusty sacks. A job, I feared, that was cursed never to end, but the presence of this rubble also portrayed a symptom of the absence of much government activity on the street level.

You also couldn’t help but notice the array of slums which had evolved by the road. Some of the houses were comprised of large billboards with ‘Coca Cola’ draped next to the entrance in faded letters. Sitting on top of these DIY foundations at a fashionable slant, a corrugated iron roof provided the primary means of protection against the ominous monsoon rains.

Each of these houses were then balanced precariously on top of one another to give the impression of an unfinished jig-saw against the horizon. Whilst this organised chaos suggested the haphazard nature of the houses’ construction, it also lent an artistic flair to the surroundings which is barren to most Westernised cities.

Against this backdrop were the Mumbaikars themselves, the life force of the city who flowed and ebbed through the streets each with their own purpose and unique knowledge of the city.

Whilst activity was never far away, many locals contented themselves with perching besides stalls and watching the stream of bikes, cars and rickshaws- which resembles a cross between a scooter and a squeezed VW campervan- beep and whine their way through the streets. In fact, so little were these particular locals’ actions that they had ceased to become human and simply blended in with their surroundings as an another decoration for the stalls.

Inevitable to such a place of extreme poverty, beggars also walked the streets. Exercising their broken English phrases to any tourists strolling past and, when that failed, they pulled and tugged at clothes as if trying to will money out of the pockets. Even though such an activity was nothing new to me, it was a shock to see that none of them were older than seven. No doubt sent out by their parents to earn their keep, even at so young an age. Although the weight of the responsibility is distressing for such small shoulders, some comfort can be derived from the fact that, even in such dire circumstances, the children rallied together and still found the energy and will to play by the road.

Standing out amongst this bustle of life was the elegance of the women, who glided authoritatively through the crowds like a swan negotiating its way through a pond of lilies. In contrast to the dusty décor, which had been cast lavishly across the buildings and streets, vibrant colours, plucked from every crevice of the spectrum, lit up their saris. Plumes of emerald green collided with splashes and swirls of dark blue, whilst delicate patterns lined the edges, all to create small vortexes of colour in every direction you looked.

As if this elaborate attire was not sufficient, many women also sported patterns across their hands and upper arms in such a delicate shade of brown that it served to compliment the skin on which it rested. Though it was observed that plants and flowers served as the primary artistic inspiration, there seemed to be no limits to this extravagant ‘mehndi.’

The diversity of such characteristics gave the impression that you were revisiting a patchwork of old dreams. Being unable to remember one specific storyline, you have taken the highlights and put them together in a blend that defies any logic but somehow makes sense.