India: An armchair adventure that I wish would never end

Armchair traveller
5 min readJan 24, 2024


Book #2 and the worst drink I have ever tried!

The mighty India has loomed over my travels for a while. How, I wondered, could I armchair travel to the most populous country in the world (1.4 billion and counting), a land with 447 languages, many religions, 28 states and 8 union territories, without devoting my life to it like a Sadhu on the banks of the Ganges. Having spent six months there, I knew it would take weeks to get beyond Bollywood and to find out that peshwari naans come from Pakistan! Luckily, nearly five per cent of Brummies claim Indian heritage so I also live in the perfect place to at least learn a little. Even more joyously, Birmingham has a plethora of Indian restaurants, so I knew there’d be no need for me to attempt to cook for myself! I found restaurants specialising in Keralan, Gujarati, Mumbai, Kashmiri and “South Indian” food. I ate their wares for breakfast, lunch and dinner, salivating over dosas, vada pav, dhal, samosas, Cauliflower 65 and all manner of things I’ve now forgotten the name of. I can’t possibly describe all I ate so I’ll just say that the alphonso Mango curry from Gujarat is incredible and that for £10 the weekend only breakfast at Shri Krishna Vada Pav gives you poha, upma, dosa, vada pav, sabudana khichadi and a chai. It’s delicious but there is so much it is not possible to eat it all!

£10 breakfast of joy. All vegan, all incredible.

It is also, obviously not possible to read one book that covers all you need to know about India. So of the 1000s of available books, I ignored the Mahabharata and the Karma Sutra (I have a bad back) and read instead White Mughals, which is an excellent companion piece to Tristran Stuart’s The Bloodless Revolution: Radical Vegetarianism and the Discovery of India. Both tomes detail the pre-Raj days of the British in India, a time before the bloodshed and hatred, when travellers loved and learned and built friendship and ties. Many of the original British immigrants took on Indian religions, culture, medicine and wive(s). They also brought ideas of vegetarianism and harems back to Blighty. Such cultural exchanges and mixed culture families were brought to an end when an asshole called Cornwallis, fresh from defeat in the United States, arrived and insisted that British subjects started wearing suits and ties. He also banned “mixed-race” children from holding important posts in the Empire. The Mughals themselves were Persian and Turkish invaders of what was then known as Hindustan As their power ebbed, so British power grew… replacing oppression with oppression as is so often the case. Which brings us to modern India, which I learned about through the book Between the Assassinations, which is set between the killing of Indira and Rajiv Gandhi. It is a page turning take-down of the caste system which still infects many peoples’ minds today, even if it is not explicitly part of politics.

Uttapam and Keralan curry

And so to the film… hoping to find something to prove that there is more to Indian film than high-pitched Bollywood musical capers, I asked for recommendations. Sadly the suggestions were rarely available in English but I did find Kantara on Netflix. It was made in the Kannada language but the Netflix version is dubbed into Hindi — we watched it with English subtitles and redubbed into English! The result was most amusing as the Hindi translation is super polite whilst the Kannada translation is amusingly rude, the subtitles will call someone a f***ing b***h, whilst the speaker says “you have displeased me.” It should have been a film I loved as it’s meant to be about the link between human beings and nature, but in many ways it seemed just one more high-pitched caper. Luckily I also watched The Lunchbox, a Mumbai-based love story about two people who never actually meet. There are no huge song and dance scenes, and no passionate kisses, yet I found it far more watchable and would strongly recommend!

Thums up cola!

I would also recommend listening to this week’s playlist which I had great fun pulling together from Indian songs I love, new and old. There is something on there for everyone, from desi rap to desi indie, to Shankar, family and friends. Whenever I think I have some idea of Indian music, something new turns up and I find a whole new genre to explore… these 40 tunes simply touch the surface.

Gobi 65, and other South Indian dishes!

Which just leaves the drink… my daughter once made me a vegan mango lassi which I was desperate to retry but never got round to! Instead I grabbed an ice-cold bottle of thums up cola. This misspelled delicacy is a staple drink in India, ever since Coca-Cola left India rather than support government efforts to ensure foreign-owned companies shared their wealth with Indian companies. It has, of course, since been bought by Coke, but the typo and this strange coke live on, as does the Kashmiri drink Masala Jeera — a most disgusting blend of apple, lemon, cumin and salt. I will never, ever drink it again!

Pani puri, and other dishes of joy!

And so I say farewell to India, heading South to Indonesia!



Armchair traveller

Near-zero carbon travel through books, drinks, food, films, music and the magic of living in multicultural #Birmingham.