A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: DanSue

Not long til home...

sunny 40 °C

We've got just one more week in India until we fly back into Blighty and reality awaits. We saw the UK on tv a couple of months ago; it looked strange and foreign and cold!

We're currently on the Andaman Islands (about 12,000km east of India into the sea). They're really quite, peaceful and relaxed. We've spent the last week baking ourselves on the beach and snorkelling. Dan saw a sea cow, it swam right past him while snorkelling. I saw a turtle and convinced myself I had a fish bonding experience when a huge one with a rhino horn on it's head let me swim with it for over 20 minutes... It then swam off, so the experience obviously meant more to me than it! I didn't see the sea cow unfortunately, just Dan, but now he's got an ear infection and hasn't been able to go back into the water since!
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What a year it's been!! We've both had adventures and seen things I'd never have thought possible. We've climbed mountains, dived with sharks, treked jungles, white water rafted, eaten and drunk the most incredible (not always in a pleasant way) things... We've seen land so bizzare and barren it looks like another planet and hardly anything lives there. We've been in dense, pristine jungle, so thick with life and growth, that it's as much a challenge as the barren landscape to survive in. We've climbed to the highest point in South East Asia and been at altitudes that make breathing a challenge and your head swim. We've spent hours in the sea, snorkelling and diving. We've treked to Machu Picchu and seen hundreds of amazing buildings and temples (a few too many temples if I'm really honest), we've seen amazing wildlife, where it should be, in the wild. We've tried our hand at so many different languages, some more successfully than others, from Spanish, which we managed ok with in the end, to Pigeon, which I will never tire of hearing. This year has been so fantastic, it's flown by in what seems like only a few weeks!

We didn't have the money or the inclination to travel the world in any sort of luxury. We've travelled thousands and thousands of miles on rickety busses and rammed trains, sleeping on the floor of boats or in hammocks, sweated our way walking through towns. We've taken the local way, and been rewarded for doing so by experiencing the richness of life in each country we've been to. The few times we have 'treated' ourselves to some luxury we've felt we've missed out, sitting in a nice air-conditioned carriage where everyone whispers to each other and there's no disturbances in the night - I can do that at home, where's the lad dressed as hanuman the monkey god, closely followed by a eunuch that puts a curse on you if you don't give her money, where's the guy selling stuff who examines you to see what he thinks you'll want to buy from him and then produces a set of steak knives!

We have met some amazing people on our travels, from locals to other travellers. There've been those who've greeted us with heart rendering warmpth and hospitality, those who've entertained us, educated us, confused us, infuriated us, helped us, got us lost, exposed themselves to us, followed us... they've all been a part of it!!

I'm writing this with such fondness, when I think of what a year we've had, and to have been able to share it all with Dan by my side has been truely incredible!

So next Wednesday we arrive home and much as we would both love to carry on travelling for many months and countries, we're both really looking forward to seeing our families and friends. I want to meet my niece (who apparently was sick on a photo of me Jane showed her in preparation for our return!) and see if my dad really does look like an extra from x-men with his red and black arm bandage, and I want to see for myself that my mum does really keep her new mobile switched on! I want to drink beer that's supposed to be warm and eat cheese!

Posted by DanSue 03:12 Archived in India Comments (0)

Agra and Jaislemer

The TaJ Mahal is really beautiful. It’s heart breakingly beautiful. A tear drop on the face of humanity. A marble affirmation of one mans love for his wife. The ultimate one-upmanship for male romance. I thought a bunch of flowers would do but after finding out she bore the Raja 13 children and died pushing out the last one it all seems worth it.
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Being one of the most famous buildings in the world I thought I knew what to expect.. I’ve never had a building evoke such a strong emotional response as the Taj. On seeing it in the flesh I wanted to hug it, love it, be part of it. I’ve seen it’s image 100’s of times but you can’t beat the real thing. We got up at sunrise to watch the sun bath the white marble in a pinkish hew and also to beat the rest of the tourists to this wonder. Every part of the building is designed to look beautiful to the eye. From your first glimpse from afar to the jewel encrusted details on closer inspection. It’s all in the details and this place was faultless. Sue and I spent the morning there just watching this building. The place gets packed by about 9:00am but there is plenty for all to see.
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From Agra we headed to the deserts of Jaselmere near the Pakistan border for a 3 day desert festival and some buttock testing camel rides. Although a desert it was not that hot. During the day would reach only 25c and the night would be cold. One of the festival days was to be held at some sand dunes out side the town so we decided to take two days travel on the back of a camel to get there.
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Some think Michel Jackson to be the dubiously child friendly king of pop but sue and I will always remember him as a horny old camel who would run after any lone female despite Sues protests. Sue’s camel was named as such and mine was called Raja Amistanie, a young racing camel who entered one of the many races the day before, got spooked and never made it to the end. We were a unlikely coupling but part from M.J’s bouts of lust and Rajas habit of stand up before I was seated, we had a good two days. If not a little hard on the arse.
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The Jeselmere desert festival was fun. Some of the events were Mr. desert, tug of war, the woman’s race, Mrs. Desert,
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best dressed camel and a whole world of camel related things. I was hoping to enter the Mr. Desert competition but my lack of beard, mustache and fancy desert clothes left me out of the running. They know how to through a colorful festival out in the desert and every one from all over the area come to join the fun.
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Posted by DanSue 03:13 Comments (0)

Nepal

- a bit of a let down!

semi-overcast 26 °C

After the hecticness of India, we were really looking forward to the relative calm of Nepal, and having many Nepalese in our home town of Aldershot, eager to experience Nepalese culture first hand.
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I'll write about all the good stuff we saw and did in a minute, but first I'll get the not quite so good stuff over with, as it really impacted on our view of Nepal...

In many of the Countries that we've been to, people like to add a bit of what we call tourist tax to things. Sometmes we haggle the price, sometimes we accept that we're paying more - it's part of travelling. The difference with Nepal is that Everyone is after those extra rupees of tourist tax, from getting on a bus to buying a bottle of water. For example, we went to the market to buy some oranges and watched all the locals paying 30 rupees. Having ascertained the price we went to do the same, but no, for us the same oranges cost 40 rupees. We offered 30, and he refused to sell them to us.

Bus journeys. We would get on and be quoted 3 times the price, why? we'd ask, because that's the tourist price was always the answer. These were government buses, with set fares. The fares are set by how much it costs to drive from a to b. Therefore if we're asked to pay 3 times, where does the extra money go? Into the pocket of the bus conductor? If I am to just give my money to people, I prefer to choose who, when and for what reason.

As well as this being immensely frustrating for it's unfairness, it also seemed to dominate the Nepali view of travellers and most of our interactions were financially based, we felt viewed as walking wallets much of the time. We found it very hard to get past this and just chat to people and find out more about the Nepali way of life or for Neplai's to show interest in us and where we're from. If it's not the Neplai way, people seem to show very little interest (maybe we bored people with telling them how we have many Nepalese people in Aldershot and yes, the restaurant really did used to be called Johnny Gurkhas!).

Because of the tourist tax, at times, some things proved more expensive than back home. It was hard to stick to our budget and so along with the frustrations, we spent less time in Nepal than we would have done otherwise.

Ok, rant over. Although I don't think either of us are in a rush to return, we did have a good time in Nepal.

We had a family reunion in the most unlikely of places as my cousin, Rachel, is volunteering in a village for 6 months, living in a room above a cow shed and eating the same meal 3 times a day - dahl baht, a lentil stew/soup. Luckily her village had guesthouses and we didn't have to bunk in with the cow. It was really good to meet up and we all treated ourselves to wine and not dahl baht for tea!
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We went to a national park, Chitwan, where we bathed an elephant. The elephant walks into the water with you on it's back and spends some time splashing you and throwing you off - the mahoot insisted I got onto the elephants head and jump off - not sure many people can say they've jumped off an elephants head! The best part for us though, was after all the 'performance' of this, the elephant gets to lie down in the water and you scrub her with stones to clean her - she seemed to really enjoy this part and even helped us by stretching out her legs. In fact, she relaxed so much that she generated a jacuzzi for us from her backside!
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The same day we also went to see where they breed all the elephants for the touist safaris and those who work in the jungle. We arrived as many were returning from their days work in the jungle carrying huge logs and their calves trotting along behind. As they are bred to have a lot of human contact, the calves wander round and come right up to you to check you out with their trunk. I was messing around with one, pulling it's trunk when it decided to take the game to the next level and started pushing me. Even though it was just a baby, you know who's boss when an elephant ramms into you - needless to say, I lost this game of wrestling, but it was fantasic that the elephant decided I may make a worthy opponent!
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Continuing with the elephant theme, the following day we went on a elephant safari into the jungle. We saw some rhino, along with the 20 other elephants with tourists on. It was probably one of the least satisfying jungle expeditions we've done, as at the end of it we really didn't feel that we'd earned the right to see rhino so close up. There were people shouting and singing, and the group behind us were eating a picnic oin the back of the elephants and tossing their rubish into the jungle. We'd much rather have to work harder to see wildlife in a more natural and respectful setting. The most upsetting part, was the clouts on the head the mahoot kept giving the elephant. While I understand that you can hit an elephant quite hard with a wooden stick before it will feel it, some of the mahoots were using metal spikes and aiming for sore, broken flesh on the tops of the ears. If that's how you have to train an elephant, then I don't think I'll be riding another one - the price for the elephant was too high!
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We couldn't come to Nepal without seeing the himalayas and so travelled to a town where we climbed up a big hill for good views. We climbed a mountain in Malaysia and so decided to give Everest a miss.
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As in most of asia, the buses are rammed as full as they can be, and then a few extra people are squeezed in. The buses then hurtle along narrow mountain roads, overtaking at what seems like the most dangerous possible moment. Nepal introduced a new challenge to bus travel... the locals throwing up. It happened on every journey, bar one, that we took. The call comes from those around the sicky passenger of 'plastic' and the conductor guys reach into their plentiful supply of plastic bags. Sometimes this reaches the passenger in time, but we did see a small child absorb the brunt of his mother stomach and I had to sit for 3 hours with a river of sickunder my seat where the woman had given up trying to aim out of the window and chosen the floor instead!

So now, we're back in the crazyness of India. We crossed the border back into India with a couple from Camberly, who now live round the corner from my folks - small world! We're currenctly in Jaisalmer, a desert town on the Pakistan border, where tomorrow a desert festival starts. Dan's preparing himself for the Mr Desert competition, and I may take on the locals in foreigners versus Indians tug o war (ladies)!

Posted by DanSue 01:36 Archived in Nepal Comments (0)

Varanasi

A Holy dip

sunny 28 °C

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The River Ganges. I have read about this river and seen it on films and documentaries and my childhood ideas about India were based on this river. Crowds of people bathing in the morning sun while holy cows wonder in the background. As it turns out it really is like that.
The town we stayed in was Varanasi. An ancient town with very high religious significant to the Hindu world. Before you reach the river you have to navigate your way through a labyrinth of lanes and pathways. No cars can fit through them so it's mostly foot traffic. It's a wonderfully claustrophobic experience. Kite sellers, food, sweets and silks are all sold from tightly packed "hobbit hole" shops either side of the alley ways. A real sensory overload. And then you meet the mighty river.
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We sat on the banks of the Ganga where all of humanity seems to pass you by. In front of us People make there way down the stone steps of the Ghats to the river, make a small prayer then get on with the normal business of getting clean. It's hard to imagine that they would be getting any cleaner than before they started because to the left of us were the billowing funeral pyres. Logs are piled high then the wrapped body of the deceased is place upon them and set alight after a quick dunk in the river. At times you can see the burning charred remains of the human form twisted in unnatural shapes as the fire gets hold of them. It was a spectacle and one that you at first feel uncomfortable watching. The shock soon wears off and the old saying "ashes to ashes" springs to mind.
It's not hidden away or closed off it's all done out in the open. Children play cricket and fly kites, boat wallahs shout for custom and holy cows and not so holy buffalo do what ever they do mere meters from the piers. The only concession, understandably, that no photos are too be taken of the dead.
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Sue and I spent hours people watching and just relaxing on the busy embankments of the river. As holy as the river is we were not driven to take a dip in it. Burnt human remains, cow droppings, plastic bags, the odd sewage pipe are all dropped into the river at some point. The locals and pilgrims don't seem to mind and due to the strong tropical currents of the Ganges it has the ability to clean it's self. Cholera was found in the river but only lasted a few days unlike similar river that infected thousands!
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Varanasi is one of the must see towns in India. It's a place you could lose yourself in for days or weeks. A place I’d love to go back to but for now Nepal is calling. Back to the hills and mountains.
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Posted by DanSue 04:10 Archived in India Comments (0)

DarJeeling

Cup of tea?

Up and into the Himalayas. We were expecting cold and we were rewarded with freezing temperatures. The journey to Darjeeling was taken on what they call the toy train.Picture_054.jpg A old steam engine with a narrow gauge that ambles it's way to the most famous hill station in India. So slow in fact that one of the perks of riding it is that you can jump out at any time, as long at you are not on one of the many cliff edges, run along side it, and jump back aboard. If you do the same journey by jeep it will only take three hours but as you may have read in almost all of our previous entries we love to take slow and laborious public transport. It takes 7 hours if nothing breaks down or 12, like our journey, if it does.47b9df30b3..LVszcsp.jpg
The views along the way are incredible . From sea level to almost 3000 meters above, passing small towns who's very roads accommodate the trains tracks. Watching an old steam train snake through what looks like the towns high street is a marvel in it's self then ploughing onwards and upwards through pristine hill ranges blanketed with tea plantations.
Darjeeling is a wonder of a town. Built on plunging hills, surrounded by glorious vistas, the houses and buildings are staked on top of each other clasped onto the face of mountains holding on of dear life.447b9df30b3..LVszcsp.jpg 147b9df30b3..LVszcsp.jpg
Darjeeling has a very different feel to the rest of India that we had visited. The people are a heady mix of Tibetans, Nepalese, and North Indians. This and the winter weather make for a very relaxed place. Gone is the ferocious hard sell of goods, even the hustle and bustle of the main part of town is somehow still less hectic even if the crowds are of the same volume.
It was the wrong time of year to see the tea factories so our time was spent wondering around town. We did meet a old lady who was willing to let us sample her 3 second tea (that's how long it takes to brew it) and talk us through the history of the Happy Valley tea plantation from where the tea is grown. You can only buy this tea in Harrods in London or her shop...Or so we are told. And why is Happy Valley tea better than all of the other 80 tea plantations in Darjeeling? Because it's happy. We loved the explanation and the logic so we bought four bags.
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Satisfied with tea it was time to move on to something harder. We had heard of a drink that was made from millet and served in a bamboo cup but asking around the tourist parts of town only drew blanks. Until we were lead down one of Darjeeling's many dark alleyways, one of the darkest and mugger friendly ones that I have seem in a while, and sat in what looked like someones kitchen. It was someones kitchen but it also doubled up as a bar for locals only. Were sat with the said locals who were surprised that a couple of tourists had found this den of iniquity. They turned out to be very friendly, if not a little drunk and stoned, and helped us through ordering and drinking this bizarre local drink. Fermented millet is piled into the bamboo cup then you poor hot water over it, leave it to soke and then drink it thought a metal straw.5147b9df30b3..LVszcsp.jpg You can get about three hits from the same millet. Small tips like, "don't stir it or you'll get a very bad headache" , and, "we only know of a few people who went blind drinking it", were helpful and just the encouragement needed to finish up. I don't know how we always manage to do it but just finding out what the locals drink can lead to some interesting situations. Not all of them am I willing to detail on this blog.8147b9df30b3..LVszcsp.jpg
Darjeeling has become one of our favorite places, not just for the tea and booze, but for the ambiance, the spectacle and friendliness of this cold but emotionally warm town. It was our first taste of the Himalayas and it's people and it's left us wanting more.

Posted by DanSue 00:21 Comments (0)

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