High in the hills of the Nilgiri Moutains sits the town of Ooty. Its history as an important hill station for the wealthy British gave it the catchy monicker ‘Snooty Ooty’ and probably goes some way to explain the abundance of tea plantations.

I had expected Ooty to be more surreal than it actually is. I envisioned grand colonial buildings. I half expected hotels with staff in traditional clothing serving gin and tonics or pouring tea. I heard about the world heritage Toy Train. I expected greenery and a boating lake. The reality is that Ooty is quite a grubby town with noise to rival Delhi. There is, however, a boating lake and the Toy Train is active.

The real beauty of Ooty lies in its surroundings. The Nilgiri Mountains are spectacular. Vast forests of tall trees hide waterfalls and gushing rivers. Ornate tea plants line the hillsides, sheltered by silver oak trees. Monkeys sit on the roadside, waiting for scraps of waste from the humans. In those hills live some of India’s greatest animals.

We trekked through the forest with a guide who grew up in the area. He knew the labyrinth of trees like the back of his hand. We followed deer tracks to a river and saw fresh bear droppings as we scrambled up some kind of path. Something growled as we walked past. I thought it best not to tell Abby that a tiger had killed three people in a tribal village only a year ago.

At the end of our trek we stopped in the village our guide descended from. Tourists rarely came there. It was a honour to witness this place. Everything in this village was evidence of a simple life. The boys were playing cricket under a 600 year old tree while the girls giggled and asked for their picture to be taken. Sacks of freshly picked tea lives lined the walls of houses with unusually small but colourful doors. Even their religion is simpler than the rest of India – they worship their parents.

The journey up to Ooty takes some time and at first, when the city comes at you with its confusion and sinister looking bars, a fleeting feeling of regret may surface. But the nature is stunning. The Nilgiri Mountains were a fine way to end this visit to India.


Of all the places that I have seen in India, Varanasi is the one that remains the biggest mystery. It is a celebration of death. It is populated with a world of characters, some good, some sinister and some that have to be seen to be believed. The whole city, from the busy upper roads, to dark lanes, right up to the ghats, focuses on one mighty river. Varanasi is the closest place to Necropolis you can get.

Varanasi is sacred in the hindu world because it sits on the Ganges. This body of water is worshipped. Every morning pilgrims bathe in it. Throughout the day women wash their clothes and hair in it. Kids somersault into it. Bodies are burned into it – it’s the fastest way to achieve moksha. The city’s raw sewage pumps into it. The waters are essentially toxic, but still there is a majesty to the river.

My first visit to Varanasi was one that inspired me to focus on Nechronicles. It was one of the most intense experiences of my life. I was duped by the ‘rickshaw mafia’ and ended up staying in a place that was a lick of paint away from being a prison. I saw the burning ghats and was followed by a man who was really keen to read my future. The overpowering smell of milk and sewage fused with the hot, hot air. I needed to leave the city, but I knew that I would return.

Dawn of the Dead

And so, six years later, a bit wiser, married and with a stronger idea of Nechronicles I came back. I did warn Abby, but still there is no way to tell what Varanasi will hold for you. Especially on Diwali.

On arrival, we were passed from an AC car to a cycle rickshaw. With our bums on a plank of wood, all of our limbs were holding onto our bags and a box of doughnuts. While it wasn’t comfortable for us, our thoughts were with the poor fella who had to cycle us for half an hour.

He battled the normal Varanasi traffic. He endured the vast swathes of tourists, both Indian and more, who were in the holy city for the festival of lights. He swerved past cows and escaped explosions as fireworks were let off whenever and wherever revellers felt necessary. Needless to say, we gave the guy a doughnut. That look of appreciation and exhaustion as the sugar comforted him will stay with us for quite some time.

After a night of reckless celebration – more like a war zone in Disneyland than the displays we’re used to at home – the sunrise in Varanasi was truly a sight to behold. The river was calm and the heat came as soon as the crimson ball crept into the sky. And still the ghats burned. All day and all night bodies are cremated. It is a surreal experience to be a spectator at something like this. Surely a funeral should be a private event, but all are encouraged to observe, just no photos allowed.

While we watched one body burn – the heat could be felt meters away – and another pyre set alight that same intensity that I felt hit Abby. It’s the curious sadness that is brought by the smoke of burning wood and flesh. It’s the uncertainty of who is around, watching.

Varanasi is not an easy place to be a part of. Tourists have gone missing, and I waited until we were seated comfortably in Goa before I mentioned anything about Aghori Sadhus. But it did explain who that skinny guy, with a long white necklace sat near one of the burning ghats and give us a funny look.

Varanasi, Necropolis in the overworld, doesn’t only need to be seen, but smelt and felt to be believed.


Caught amongst the madness of India is the pearl that is the Taj Mahal. Possibly, one of the most iconic monuments in the whole world, it still sits comfortably in the official 7 Wonders of the World (if you’re as curious to know what the others are, click here). It’s no surprise that Agra, the town it sits in, is dedicated to it. In fact, after a while you do almost feel sorry for Agra Fort and the other sites, which try to pull in the tourists from the massive mausoleum.

Agra itself is a strange little place. I first visited in 2010 and found the city quite charming. The roads weren’t great. There were so many winding roads and corners, crowned with beautifully mogul archways. Intricate steps led up to the side of walls, seemingly to nowhere in particular. It was a town full of rooftop views of the Taj Mahal, slightly obscured by a dense network of overhead cables, with a large population of monkeys.

It would seem, however, that some money has no been pumped into Agra. Gone is the charm that reminded me so much of Aladdin’s hometown. The roads have been paved over. There are now swish LED streetlights. Businesses have been given an identity to follow. The result feels like a hundred gift shops at the base of the world’s greatest museum. And they all want your business.

Wonder Stuff

The Taj Mahal is truly a sight to behold. You can’t walk through that gate and not feel an overwhelming sense of awe the first time you see it. And that feeling grows the closer you get to it.

White marble is constructed to perfection. Red flowers and mogul script detail the vast structure so that even up close – when you touch it – that wonder stays. Colours change as the sun moves across it.

This is equally the greatest and saddest testament of love that has ever been created. 363 years later, the king and his wife are still resting together as thousands of tourists wonder at them in the overworld.

On a final note, it’s worth mentioning that the Taj Mahal is closed on a Friday. I found that out the hard way. Six years later, I’m still grateful for that old rickshaw driver for peddling me around to all the places in Agra I could view the Taj Mahal from afar.


The Pink City and capital of Rajasthan, Jaipur has it all. Stunning architecture and a rich history. Camels and cars share roadspace. Vast bazars and shopping centres complete with Marks and Spencer. There’s no denying the importance of this city.

Our experience of Jaipur was a bit manic. We arrived in the city via a sleeper bus (cabins reminded me a bit of a fancy microwave, but surprisingly comfortable given the bumpy roads) and found our hotel. After a brief catch up on sleep, we left the city again. We were on our way to Ranthambore National Park to find tigers.

It was a bit of a nightmare finding transport to take us the 100-or-so miles south. After wandering around bus stations and travel agents we finally got tickets for a train. They were the cheapest tickets, so no air-con. But that’s fine, it was only 2 and half hours. There were no allocated seats. No big deal, we’ve travelled with Southern Rail. And the train left at rush hour. How busy could it be?

Tracks of my Tears

After nearly three hours, crammed on a train, with strangers hanging onto us for support, limbs in all directions and still being encouraged to take a selfie, it was like nothing we had ever experienced. I salute the Indian people for their determination and ability to hang on the side of a speeding train.

On our return to Jaipur (which was much more comfortable. Room to breathe and sip a chai. Same class, just midmorning) we were blown away by the beauty of the city. Diwali had started to sneak in. Multi-storey buildings were draped in strings of colour. Houses, businesses, even tuc-tucs shone brightly in artificial lights. Joy beamed across this opulent city in colours as the night set in. It was a sight to see.

Jaipur, the Pink City and capital of Rajasthan – I don’t think we’ll be forgetting our time there in a hurry.

But what happened after the train? Read about our time in Ranthambore National Park here.


Imagine arriving in a small dusty town. It’s dark, you’re alone. A man, dressed all in black, offers you a ride on his motorbike. Your instinct tells you to say ‘no’, so you take a rickshaw. The rickshaw breaks down and the man on his bike appears, twice. This is when the rickshaw driver tells you that he is a ‘bad man’. You panic. The man knows where you are heading. The rickshaw doesn’t move. There is danger in the air, and you haven’t stepped into the jungle yet.

To say that our journey to the small town of Sawai Madhopur was smooth would not be true. To say that the small town of Sawai Madhopur was worth the stress, discomfort and, frankly, raw fear was worth it would also be a lie. Still, the murals around the train station reminded us of why we came to the place. Sawai Madhopur is the nearest town to Ranthambore National Park; one of the best place in India to see tigers in the wild.

We booked a jeep as soon as we checked into our back alley hotel and it picked us up fairly promptly at dawn. We slept quite well considering we half expected the bad man in black to be standing outside our window/kicking down our door/robbing us and leaving us as tiger fodder.

Welcome to the Jungle

Sitting at the back of an open top jeep was exhilarating. Driving through forests with the dust kicking up behind us added to the thrill. Slowing down the ride with our eyes peeled for predators was the closest I think we’ll ever get to being in Jurassic Park.

There were distant boar, antelope, deer, peacocks and monkeys, but no tigers. Abby saw something crawl low under some bushes at one point. It could have been a leopard. The elusive striped cat was hiding for us that day. At the time, we did wonder if they ever saw them considering the noise created by the jeep. Our guide maintained that it was down the season, which is the hottest winter I’ve ever known.

While Ranthambore didn’t deliver the animals it was still a privilege to have been so close to them, in their natural environment. Nothing can take away the sense of peace that is in the Indian forest. Until the jeeps start their engines again.

Chapter III – Going Places

A figure, shrouded in dark robes under an imposing hood, released a lever that had been built into the back of what should have been the house that Brigid had entered. Behind the façade they were nothing more than crudely put together structures of metal poles and sheets of metal. The effect was more like an amateur stage production than a row of derelict houses. When Brigid was safely behind the structure, and it had creaked shut, the figure crossed an empty space. Dust billowed around his feet as he stepped towards the woman.

“We did not expect your company today,” the figure said. His voice was nothing more than a deep whisper.

“Believe me,” Brigid answered as she walked towards the figure, “there are other places that I’d rather be right now.”

The figure stood a short distance from Brigid. His hands were hidden beneath the baggy black sleeves.

“To what do we owe the pleasure?” the figure asked.

“Let’s just say that I had a sudden urge to hold an assembly.”

“I don’t understand,” the figure said.

“Get rid of that stupid hood,” the woman said and snatched the hood down from the figure.

“Madam Brigid,” the exposed elderly man said with the air of someone who been intruded on whilst in the nude, “this is highly unacceptable. What if we are seen?”

Brigid retrieved the newspaper from her jacket and thrust it towards the old man’s face.

“A little too late for that,” she said.

The tall man tore the newspaper from Brigid’s hands and glanced at the front page. Brigid marched behind the fake houses towards a makeshift staircase. It led up to an equally shabby gallery that was composed of poles and pieces of metal.

“Madam Brigid,” the man said, “I must protest, you cannot simply walk up there. I–”

“I can do as I wish,” Brigid responded. The words flew over her shoulder to the man.


“Look,” Brigid stopped and turned to look at the man who stood at the bottom of the metal stairs, “this is my project, my funding. I can do as I please.”

“I mean no offence,” the man said.

“Then shut your mouth and follow me.”

Bushy grey eyebrows furrowed on the man’s forehead.

“Madam Brigid,” he said in his most stern tones, “I will not be spoken to like that. I will have you know that I taught at the finest universities across–”

“Then you will know that I will not ask you twice.”


“No buts.”

“I must—“

“Look,” Brigid said. Her brown eyes widened, her lips were taught. The man in the robes cowered at the glare, even from the distance. The school mistress was back. “I personally selected you to join us. As such I demand that you treat me with the utmost respect and obedience. Things may be spiralling, but everything is still in my control. Now, needless to say, you must summon the rest. We need an assembly. I need to address you all. Do I make myself clear?”

The tall, old man nodded his head once. He walked across the dusty compound as fast as his legs would let him. He would have run but that would have lost him his final shreds of dignity.


“You stays here,” Papa said to the boy. “You stays here for as long you need.”

The room was dark but it was not empty. Forgotten cupboards, tables, chairs and all manner of lost furniture filled a forgotten storage room. Dust floated in the air. Individual specks glittered in the light that tried to creep in from behind a long curtain. A tall man in a white jacket crouched behind a folded table.

“See,” he said to the boy who lay as a heap in a dark corner, “you with me now. There a lot of punks out there who would see you, identify your spirit and they’s use it against you. In fact, I might be one of them punks myself, but at least you safe with me. Better the devil you know, you know?” Papa laughed a subtle but sincere laugh. It bubbled out of his belly and hissed between his teeth.

The young man tried to see the person who spoke to him, this Papa. The room was too dark and his eyes had not adjusted yet. His world was nothing more than muddied night. Occasionally he caught a flash of white as Papa swooped past him.

“But you ain’t got nothing to worry about. Not while you with me boy.”

The young man went to speak.

“Don’t try that,” Papa said.

The young man looked into the darkness, towards the place where Papa’s voice came from. Blurred white lines formed from behind the darker patches in front of him. “Ain’t no good ever come from the words of a dead man,” Papa’s voice came from the shapes in front of him. They crawled across the boy’s vision and merged together. They spun and squirmed and wriggled like bright, white maggots. The white shapes created a skull. “No, now you with me, you won’t be needing to endure that burden. Remember boy, actions have always spoken far louder than any word man can utter.”

The skull smiled at the young man who cowered back in fear. There was nowhere for him to go. The young man was already backed into a corner and lost in the clothes that he worn in the overworld. The skull was in his head. There was no escape from it.

“Don’t hide from you fear,” Papa’s deep voice growled out from the skull, “Use it. It wants to help you. You need it. It need you.”

The boy tried to cry out but was stuck in the darkness of his mind. The skull drew closer to him until it completely dispersed into the black of his mind.

“You just need to remember why,” Papa’s voice said. It was close, as though he stood in the young man’s ear and whispered into it. “Never forget why you ended up here. Never let go of that anger.”

The young man shook his head as fast as he could in his fresh state. Every motion was new. He needed to learn everything again. His neck flinched as though he tried to deflect a fly.

“Ain’t feeling that,” Papa said.

The boy writhed in his space to get rid of the nuisance that was in his head.

“Try harder,” Papa encouraged him.

The boy started to shrug his shoulders. Aggression crept into his movements. His elbows broke free of the lethargy that held him back. His wrists flicked. He fists punched. The young man launched himself into the darkness to escape the irritation. He landed into some solid furniture. Noise erupted as items fell on top of each other. Bangs fought to be heard as the contents of the room, uninterrupted for years, collapsed on themselves. Papa’s laugh sparked up again. It grew from a hiss to a hearty laugh.

“You gonna go far boy,” he said as the din quietened.



From the heat of the desert it was refreshing to reach the lakeside city of Udaipur.

There’s no denying that Udaipur has a cool, young, buzz about it. Boutique coffee shops, juice bars and funky rooftop restaurants are smattered around cookery schools and artist houses. A sprawling palace overlooks a swish hotel and some kind of restaurant, which are islands on the water.  Every evening James Bond’s theme can be heard echoing around the narrow streets – pride that this city features heavily in Octopussy.

As the sun goes down Udaipur seems to come into its own. Orange beams illuminate the city and reflects the lakes that it is built around. Manmade lights show off the opulent buildings. Even some search lights, more associated with major Hollywood events, wave across the night sky.

Town and Country

From Udaipur we managed to see a bit more of Rajasthan. I had no idea that it was so mountainous. In parts it reminded me of Northern Italy. But the vision of women in bright coloured saris walking around with bricks/grass/pots on their head, sometimes with a baby in their arms, brought my thoughts back to India. On that note, hats off to the women I saw. True grafters and always looking amazing.

We motored through villages and country to reach a place called Kumbhalgarh, home of the second longest wall in the world. More about this trip can be found here.

I liked Udaipur, and it seemed that Udaipur liked Nechronicles. Flyers are available at Yummy Yoga, and look out for a little mention at Grasswood Cafe. Udaipur truly has taste.


52 miles north of Udaipur is the fort of Kumbhalgarh. While forts seem to be all over Rajasthan, this was the one that I was looking forward to exploring the most. The fort of Kumbhalgarh is home to the second longest wall in the world.

While it is a fraction of the size of its Chinese counterpart (around 20 miles compared to 5,500 miles. Blimey) the wall is something to behold. It curves around the landscape almost like a rollercoaster.  It sometimes disappears behind hills and shows itself again at a different level that runs down along the landscape.

Inside it houses an entire community of a long gone era. There is a palace, temples and even some step wells or baolis. Mausoleums dedicated to its ancient leaders are smattered around the space, while nature has reclaimed most of the central area. There is a sense that this would have been a mighty town in its day.

Lord of the Geeks

After a heavy-going walk to the palace we were rewarded with stunning views across the Rajasthani countryside. From on high, the vastness of the space the walls protects can really be appreciated. The palace itself is a feast for the inner geek.

Structurally it reminded me of Gormenghast. Tall towers house chambers for the staff and royalty. Steps run up and down and along to places of worship and peace. Unassuming corners lead to breathtaking views. Merlin Peake aside, I think I bored our fellow explorers Riley and Paul with my continuing quotes from Labyrinth and making Abby pretend that she’s Daenerys Targaryen. Sorry about that.

Kumbhalgarh is really worth the 2 to 3 hour drive from Udaipur. It is the kind of place that ignites the imagination and makes you marvel at the power of mankind. And dragons.


Around 300 years ago, a new Diwan took control of the desert town of Jaisalmer. With a new ruler come new rules. Salim Singh raised taxes in the villages that fell under his control. Wealth disappeared from the villages as quickly as respect for the new leader.

However, it wasn’t until Salim Singh demanded the hand of the daughter of a village elder when troubles started. Not being a man who makes demands lightly, the village had ten days to hand her over or face even higher taxes.

85 villages turned their backs on the Diwan as a result of his audacity. Within ten days the villagers had packed up and moved on to new settlements. To spite Salim Singh, the elder of the village of Kuldhara placed a curse on the area. No one should settle in the village until the end of time.

Or so the story goes.

Bhooty Call

As we passed through a modest settlement we took a dusty road before arriving in a square. There were a couple of tourist buses but its passengers had since dispersed into the ruins ahead of us. We were in Kuldhara, a place notorious for being the haunted cursed town of local legend. Bus loads of national tourists come here on a daily basis in search of Bhoot and a cheap scare.

We crossed a sandy square and were left to our own devices. Kuldhara, like most attractions in India, has no limit to where you can go. I stepped past a dome, presumably of historic importance, and into the shell of a home. Through the entrance room and into a walled space it doesn’t take long to appreciate that you are standing inside someone’s home. There are steps, crumbling doorways and painted window frames.

From the higher levels the expanse of the village is apparent. Ruined abodes still try to cling onto the present next to forgotten roads. There is a central temple, complete with handprints and intricate carvings that I can only assume is no longer in use.

For 500 years Kuldhara was a living village. It had seen wealth and trade but in a short space of time its residents abandoned it. Some say it remains abandoned as the result of a curse. Realists say that it is because of the unforgiving environment; water simply disappeared.

Either way there is a sadness to the village. Centuries of life have been left to crumble as tourists run around making loud noises in dark rooms. Bats guard cellars. Newer villagers are trying to rebuild the road and break that curse. Whether it is haunted or not, Kuldhara’s desperation can easily be felt.


Situated close to the Pakistani border stands a mighty golden fort. In and around the walls of what may be the oldest living fort in the world is Jaisalmer, a town that feels like it is on the edge of India.

Like a giant sandcastle, the palace looks over a nearby lake and far off into the Thar Desert. From the highest point you can look down into the meandering streets of the fort and the impossible bazaar below. Cows, dogs and pigs battle for floor space with buses, tuc-tucs and jeeps. Yet, despite the unforgiving heat (it reached 35°C while we were there, and that’s the cool season) Jaisalmer is a lively town full of friendly faces.

To find out more of this ancient town – the fort was built over 800 years ago – we decided to take a wander around the palace. The history was fascinating. Centuries of rulers are all recorded and have left their individual marks on the place. We saw the palace of the Maharajah, and the palace of the Maharani. We learned about how water was kept in such an arid place and how art was brought in from the Mughals. But mostly, we will take away the distinct smell of bats.


With an aroma caught somewhere between sweaty hair and urine, every dark corner in Jaisalmer Fort is infested with bats. From the main archway under the palace to the ornate courtyards within it, there are bats. There are so many in fact that our tour of the palace turned into a walk through a ghost house. Between rooms and sculptures of the fort we walked quickly as flying rodents darted along corridors. As with most attractions of this nature the tour ended with a run down some dark steps with a ceiling thick with bats, that led straight to a giftshop.

As horrendous as I may make the palace sound it really was a thing of beauty. It set the scene for our stay in Jaisalmer and the surrounding area. Like the stuff of fiction, we went from an ancient, bat-infested, palace to a cursed village which has remained uninhabited for the last 200 years. All this before we spent the night in the open desert air as wild dogs fought each other. Jaisalmer really was a wondrous place.

Read about our visit to Kuldhara here.