A summary of a family history and sightseeing tour of India by Anne Brookes
On our fifth trip to India in 2015 we had travelled with the ‘Families in British India Society’ and this group tour had been faultlessly organised by Indus Travel. As well as good accommodation we had travelled to many places of interest connected to fellow travellers, plus ones relating to the Brookes clan and several old cemeteries on behalf of British Association for Cemeteries in South Asia (BACSA). We also spent time on the tourist trail, which included visiting the fabulous Golden Temple at Amritsar, the Taj Mahal at Agra and Shimla. Because many of the places we wished to explore this year were not on the normal tourist route, we contacted Indus travel to request their knowledge and expertise in organising a bespoke tour.After much discussion we flew from Heathrow to Mumbai on the 7th May, to enjoy a few nights staying at the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel—expensive but a lovely pre-55th wedding anniversary treat. With only a first name and photograph, the staff at Indus Travel had located our previous guide Sunita and so, with our trusty driver Santosh, we began another tour of many interesting sites in Mumbai. We were transported in our comfortable Toyota Innova car, with Santosh avoiding numerous scooters and erratic car driver to revisit St Thomas Cathedral, various temples, an interesting museum and several of the other sites, as recommended on the tourist map. I had requested a return trip to the huge dhobi complex and also we were fascinated watching the final part of the ‘lunch-box’ delivery service. Sunita was unavailable on the next day but Santosh was on hand to take us wherever we wanted to go. This included an early morning, through the Sassoon Gate to visit the busy fish market area, where trucks arrive with blocks of ice, ready for the fish and prawns to be transported elsewhere. Along with several tours from the cruise ships, we walked around Crawford Market; the livestock area didn’t appeal but the array of fruit and vegetables was amazing and we did purchase bananas.
On the 11th we left Mumbai for an interesting drive, through hills to Pune, where we checked in to the comfortable Hyatt Regency Hotel, situated on the outskirts of the large modern city and after a relaxing afternoon, next morning we were ready or another sightseeing trip with our guide Daya. Our main reason for visiting Pune was to visit the church and cemetery which had a connection with John’s maternal grandmother, who along with several siblings, during their father’s army posting, had been born here. We were made very welcome at St Mary’s Church and John was shown the original christening and death records pertaining to the Waite family. We then proceeded to the St Sepulchre Cemetery; where not surprisingly, the area dating back to the late 1800’s was very overgrown but photographs were taken to pass on to BACSA. We reverted to being tourist and were shown many interesting places, including the house where, during a period of house arrest, Mahatma Ghandi and his wife had chosen to live simply, in one of the many rooms. We also saw a popular ashram, where celebrities pay to dress in flowing robes and also live the simple life, which appeared to include periods of non-energetic dancing. As one of our interests is the history of WW1 & 11, we appreciated the visit to the beautifully kept Kirkee Commonwealth War Cemetery.On the 14th we had another long journey to Sholapur and I had to smile when we passed the sign ‘ALWAYS OVERTAKE FROM THE RIGHT’ but as the trucks invariably stayed in the right lane, this sign was ignored by all drivers. The purpose of this visit, to what was more of an industrialised town, was to see where John’s father, Archie Brookes, was born in 1906 and where his grandfather Oliver had been posted (probably from Calcutta) to work as a train guard. Oliver’s career with the railways ended in 1937 with him holding a prominent position at Victoria Terminus (Chhatrapati Station) in Mumbai, before retiring to live in Bangalore. Once again we were booked into another spacious and clean room at the modern Balaji Sarovar Premiere Hotel, located on the edge of the sprawling town and adjacent to the small airport. Next day we were joined by our excellent guide Amit, who did his best to describe how Sholapur would have appeared during the early 1900s but now very little of the old town survives. However we were introduced to the station master of the present Railway Station, which was opened in 1956 and given a brief talk about how the original railway still retain some of the original ideas—including the train engines showing odd or even numbers, to indicate which way they are travelling. We were also shown the area where the railway employees, including John’s grandfather, would have lived and worked during the period Oliver resided in Sholapur and then travelled to the isolated Christ Church, where Archie was christened to meet the caretaker and take photographs. Then after a tour of the town and a promised visit to Bhuikot Fort later, we were taken to First Church and met Pastor Vivas Vinay (who also looks after Christ Church); he and his wife made us very welcome and although no records exist from the early 1900s, we did have a nice chat.
Our Family History Tour was now over and we reverted to tourists with a circular route towards Goa had been arranged; this involved more very long drives but seeing the scenery, people and animals of rural India was fascinating. However, despite roughing it in some places over the years, I was disgusted with the Madhuvan International Hotel in Bijapur; the wording international was a misnomer and my wording would have said Madhuvan Doss House and Flea Pit. To be fair we had been advised that whilst Bijapur had some wonderful old architecture, including Gol Gumbaz Tomb, it was not a tourist area and so we didn’t have high expectations. However, it didn’t help that the place resembled a building site and the receptionist couldn’t find our names in his tatty book. John did try to explain that an executive room should have been reserved but there was a language problem and so we ended up in a tiny room with a dripping A/C system and extremely hard beds. We had decided to move on to our next destination rather than stay a second night but fortunately, after a phone call to Indus Travel who phoned the hotel, an executive room was available. The word executive was also was a misnomer as there were no towels etc, we also had a hole in the ceiling but at least the beds were ‘less firm’ and we had enjoyed the sights. NB—for future tourists wishing to visit Bijapur, the nearby Hotel Pearl did appear to be of a higher standard of accommodation.
Our next two night stay was in the modern EEFA Hotel at Belgaum, where we had a lovely spacious room, comfortable beds, a fridge and a working shower. We had an interesting stay, with a tour of the town, visiting more temples and enjoying a tour and a chat with a volunteer at a non-religious but less commercialised ashram. On the 20th we drove to Hubbli, where we stayed in a comfortable suite at the Clarke’s Inn; again this was perfectly acceptable accommodation, especially when we finally received towels and toilet paper. Once again we had a comprehensive and interesting tour of the town with Santosh, which included many temples but also a view of how the locals lived in their nearby farming community.
The long drive to Goa included many miles through a Nature Reserve with signs advising of the varied wildlife there but all we saw was one monkey as we approached the coastal region. Our third visit to the Cidade De Goa Hotel, located just outside Panjam City was restful but we also chose several areas to visit, including the wonderful churches in Old Goa. On the 27th we were on the road again for our long drive to Chiplun, where we stayed in an isolated spot at The River View Resort; our first room had a dodgy toilet but once we had moved we could enjoy the old world charm of this slightly ‘down at heel’ accommodation. The views of the gardens and the distant river made up for the many steps to the dining room and after the noise from the ‘all-inclusive’ families at Cidade De Goa, it was very peaceful here. Once again Santosh took us on a tour of the area and at our request this included a visit to the railway station in Chiplun; we had rail tickets for next day and wanted to be on the platform when Tuesday’s Mandovi/Mumbai express departed. It was fascinating to watch the hundreds of passengers climbing aboard, what appeared to us to be, an already full train. However, as Santosh had to take the car back to Mumbai on the 29th, we did decide to travel with him rather than wait until late afternoon for our train. Our final long drive was another interesting journey and I watched as we negotiated busy junctions and heavy traffic in the various towns and in one we stopped for a delicious Tali lunch. I also saw many school children going to or from school and drove past fruit sellers, cows, goats and abandoned road widening projects, all on the way back to the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel. With the hard working and reliable Santosh, Mumbai, was where we enjoyed the last two days of our wonderful return trip to India.
Santosh, who had been at our disposal 24/7 since picking us up at Mumbai airport 24 days previously, was there to take us back to the airport for our return to the UK.
We now have to save our pennies for a possible Indus Experiences tour to Burma but with our anniversary trip to America in September, this holiday will have to wait for another year.
A selection of images that John and Anne have very kindly sent to accompany this article.