Sunday, 26 December 2010

Have you ever come face to face with a wild Rhino? No, me neither, but I got very close to some

Merry Christmas everyone from Nepal. Before we get into what I got up to, mainly drinking, I will update you on my adventures within the Chitwan National Park.

It was started with a fortunate meeting with a friend I met whilst trekking at the bus station. She was headed to the park as well so I now had some company and also someone to share a room with, keep down my costs! Before you jump to any conclusions we have a purely platonic relationship but just happened to get on very well together, so sharing a room was no big deal; and don't think she was too fussed at me walking around in my boxers!

So we got to Chitwan early afternoon and found a nice cheap hotel to stay in. The main town where we were situated was based on the banks on the Rapti river and you could just sit on the numerous deckchairs, have a drink and look out over the jungle which was on the other side of the river. The bonus was that Chitwan is also 4 hours furhter south than where I have been staying, so it was really warm in the daytime ie. short weather.
After a quick drink we went to get prices for our jungle tour. We decided to go for a 2 day walking tour, staying over at a small riverside village in another part of the park, and this also included a 45 minute canoe ride and a 1hr 30min elephant ride upon our return. The price for all of this was 4,000 rupees, about 35 quid - sweet!

Early the next morning we set off on our tour. There was just myself, Francoise and our 2 guides - 1 for the front and 1 for the back as we were walking through the jungle so in theory anything could sneak up on us. Our guides were Sesir - a bit of a legend who 15 yrs earlier was attacked by a rhino which left him with the side of his body hanging open and a 3 month hospital stay, and Ram, the best tree climber I have ever seen. He could climb up any tree, no branches required, to look out over the jungle for any animals that were close by.
The tour started with the canoe ride, which was excellent apart from the fact that the mist was so dense you could only see about 5 metres in front of you. Still there were birds flying all around us as we made our way downriver to the walk start point. The canoes were fashioned out of a particular tree and were very low down, close to the water level. Excellent, when you have just been informed that there are crocodiles here, both freshwater and saltwater (the more aggressive maneating type).

After we disembarked from the canoe the first thing that was pointed out were fresh tiger prints! I thought this was a little too conveninent and had images of little kids being employed to walk around with tiger print plaster cast shoes on - but who knows?
So this was a jungle walking tour - and that literally meant walking through the jungle. It wasn't long before we were deep in the undergrowth, having to fight our way through trees and elephant grass - proper adventure stylee. It was great.
At about 10am there was some rustling in the nearby grass and we all had to climb the nearest tree to get our first sight of a wild Rhino. We had to climb the tree 1) for safety 2) because elephant grass is about 8 feet tall.
It wasn't the clearest view of the rhino but all said and done, we saw it.
The rest of the day was spent walking around, looking for signs of animals and listening to the sounds of the jungle to try and spot the wildlife.
Throughout the day we saw monkeys, 2 rhinos, deer, including the barking deer, so named because it actually barks like a dog - wierd, termite mounds, some 6 foot tall, and some that had been smashed up by the sloth bears (I didnt get to see one but did see ity prints and its vomit - which looked like a berry omlette, crocodiles whilst we had lunch by the river, wild boar and lots of different birds.

Kimbo Matts, just for you, some of the birds I saw were peacocks, ruddy shelduck, swallows, geese, wagtails, slender billed oriele, woodpecker and eagles. I can't remember anymore than that.

In the evening we had to cross the river again and stay at a little village on the edge of the jungle. Nothing much to say about this except that we met a father and son from Canada. There was something that unnerved me about the father as he was very softly spoken, but at the same time what came out of his mouth was very opinionated and harsh at times. Odd combination.
Still, we had a good chat and the best bit came when I asked him what he did for a living. He said he was a retired scientist who specialised in latex. Turns out he was Canada's no 1 specialist in the production of condoms! He then told me all about the excellent Durex factory in London. One word - surreal.
Because of his mild manner but at same time harsh comments which I found perplexing and as I have said unnerving, I referred to him as the 'Condom Killer' for the rest of trip because I could imagine him committing some horrible crimes whilst softly speaking to his victim.

Anyway, next day we were back in the jungle and saw pretty much all of the same animals again. We saw another Rhino, but a close encounter and good photo opportunity was still elluding us. The most eventful thing was Francoise climbing a tree and getting stuck. It took 15 mins to get her down, in which time I lost interest and practiced my own tree climbing, Nepalese style - which is quite an art and I was rubbish at it. I need to put in some proper practice time.
All in all, it was a really good 2 days and going off road into the actual jungle knowing that there were real animals that could do you some serious harm close by was quite exhilarating.
We also covered approximately 50km in 2 days which shouldn't have been an issue after my trek, but the heat made it hard work.

We got back to the main town just in time for sunset and chilled out with a nice meal, some beer and a game of cards.

Next morning we headed off for our elephant ride. Each elephant carried 4 people, so there was me, Francoise and 2 fat-ass Yanks, Ken and Brenda. To be fair to them they were tolerable Yanks who were here to visit their newly acquired Nepalese son-in-law's family. Still, they did come out with some typical American tripe. For example:
1) when the elephant was weaving around the grass and trees he shouted out to his daughter on another elephant - "Hey Krystal, what we need to do is get the Caterpillar and drive straight through, none of all of this weaving in and out!"
2) when talking about his son-in-law - "obviously there are many cultural differences that I SUPPOSE we will need to work through, I mean this country isn't civilised"

After each ludicrous comment I just looked at Francoise, rolled my eyes and tried not to let Ken know that he was really funny, for all of the wrong reasons.
But saying that, he was a good guy and I did like him - honest! I am aware that I am sounding like a real bitch with the condom killer and Ken, but that is only 2 people out of many great people that I have met that I felt I needed to tell you about.

Back to the elephant ride and all of sudden a call went up that a Rhino has been spotted.  The elephant drivers went into action and soon enough there was an adult male Rhino and calf right beneath us. It was amazing to see them that close. The only thing I wasn't too keen on was the fact that 6 elephants virtually circled the poor things so all of us tourists could get a view and our photos. The calf was clearly scared and at one point it looked like the adult was getting ready to charge at an elephant, they all sensed this and so I had to deal with an elephant trumpeting it's trunk right near my earhole - it was loud!
Eventually, the rhinos found an exit route and all was well again. It was brilliant though.
The rest of the day was spent on a bike ride to 20,000 lakes - not sure why it is called that as there are only a few lakes and it wasn't that impressive. I am probably being negative because the seat of the bike was absolutely killing my arse and there and back was 40kms!

Our last evening in the jungle was spent eating good food and then watching 4 Nepali's butcher a wild boar that they had caught. Fortunately it had already been bled but I watched them decapitate it and then empty the contents of the body. The intestines were huge. It was really interesting and if I eat meat I think it is healthy to watch it being prepared for that purpose.

Next day myself and Francoise returned to Pokhara which is where I would be spending xmas. As I walking up the high street I ran into the 4 Oz girls I had met trekking (twins!) and had a drink with them. It was agreed there and then that I was to spend my Xmas Day with them.
Xmas Eve was spent firstly with Rachel, a girl I met in India and who is travelling virtually the same route as me and at the same time), then moved onto another bar to meet Francoise and Andy (a bird watcher from Notts who I also met trekking), to then be joined later by the Oz girls. It was a good, fairly drunken night.

Xmas day was spent as planned with the Aussies. We went to the 'Boomerang' restaurant (well I was with the Aussies) for Xmas dinner. It was lovely, sat by the lake in my shorts eating roast duck.
The girls also got me some presents which was quite embarrassing but really thoughtful. I got some wicked socks, good for the cold nights here and a really nice scarf. The rest of xmas day was spent drinking lots and lots of booze. In the evening we moved onto a really good bar here which has a live band and we danced the night away with lots of shots. It is fair to say that by the end of the night we were all plastered and this was proven by the girls falling over on the dance floor whilst hugging each other.
I have now also made some real friends for life. I will be meeting them again for NYE in Kathamndu (I imagine that will get messy too) and when I get to Oz I will definitely be spending some time living and hanging around with them in Sydney and Melbourne.

So that was Xmas - all in all a brilliant day and a great way to spend my first (and not last) Xmas overseas.

I think I am going to hang around here for a few more days. The Aussie girls have gone to Chitwan, Francoise is on her way back home to Canada, but Rachel is still here. Also there is a 3 day street festival starting here in 2 days so I want to experience that before moving onto Kathmandu for New Yr.
I am also considering going paragliding, which is on offer here. I have been told it is a great experience and the views of the mountains are fantastic. I wouldn't mind going trekking again but I am not sure.
We shall see.

Right I am off to get some food and get ready to watch Spurs tonight, ko time here of 11:15pm. I purposely got a room with a tv for the Boxing Day games. A decent hotel with nice shower and tv for $2.80 per night! Lovely jubilee!

Sunday, 19 December 2010

Annapurna Circuit - done, Poon Hill - done, Annapurna Base Camp - done

Yo yo Bloggers, I am back from the mountains and back to civilisation. I think I prefer mountain life.
It is hard to put into words the entire experience and do justice to some of the scenes that I saw but all you need to know is that it was probably the best 3wks of my life so far. I loved it.

So here is what happened:

Day 1 - departure day:
Distance walked - 13km
Height reached - 930mtrs above sea level

My day did not get off to the best start and it would get worse before it got better. Local intel told me that the bus to Besisahar (trek start point) would depart from the bus station at 7am. I arrived at 6:40am full of excitement and expectation to find out that the bus leaves at 6:30am. Great!
My only option was to get a bus to a town called Danbre, change and get another bus to Besisahar.
So I got to the Danbre at approximately 10am (the time I should have been starting my trek) and I can only describe the town as a sort of old mining town like in the wild west, full of crooks and swindlers. How correct my instincts would prove to be.
I changed vehicles and got onto a minibus (I was the only westerner but I am used to that now) which I was assured would be the quickest transport available. My bag was stored on top of the vehicle due to the amount of people wanting to travel - big mistake!
As we departed a few locals climbed up onto the roof to travel and I am sure you can guess what happened next. After about 20 mins I couldn't stand it any longer and insisted that I sit up on the roof as well, but by then it was too late; someone had already given themselves a tour of my bag and its contents.
I insisted that everyone on the roof empty their pockets but it appeared that the perpetraitor had already done one.
Once I got to Besisahar I went through my bag to see what the damage was. They had taken my toiletry bag (not a big deal except that I was hiding a spare cash card in there so that had to be cancelled immediately), my camera charger and USB lead and my drawing pencils. Fortunately, I was able to replace it all for minimal cost before I set out on my trek at approx 2pm - a full 4 hours after I had planned to get going.

I was planning to meet some trekkers here and start out with them, but that was now not to be the case and a blessing in disguise. For the first 1.5 days I was playing catch up which meant that apart form the locals that I passed in the villages, it was just me, the animals, the hills, the valleys and the sound of the river - bliss!

My first night was spent in a village called Nadi Bazar (population 30 Nepalis and me) and I was literally sleeping in a tin shack attached the family room. I fell asleep that night listening to the family having their dinner.
One thing I did notice was that in the pitch black of the evening you can see more stars than you ever thought possible - awesome.

Day 2:
Distance - 16km
Cumulative distance - 29km
Height reached: 1,300mtrs

After a nice breakfast of porridge and eggs I got going at 7am. As I said I playing catch up so most of the day was spent in my own company. At one point I came to a trail that went off in 2 different directions and had no idea which way to go - so I went off road ie. I was lost for about 1hr. I tried to think what Ray Mears would do and I scanned the ground for walking tracks - brilliant idea except that there were tracks on both trails!
So I spent 30mins walking on each trail and coming back to the start as I was unsure. In the end I found 2 local women chopping wood (as you do) and they pointed me in the right direction. It turns out that both tracks would have got me to where I wanted to go!!!
The nice ladies sent me along the path which would turn out to the harder of the two, which meant an exhausting climb of 1,000mtrs straight up to the next village.
Later that afternoon I ran into an Australian tour group and spent the evening with them. All of them were really nice and I got some contact details for when I arrive in Sydney.
They offered me the chance to trek with them but I decided I would push on the next morning as I would be quicker on my own.
I met a few groups during the trek and you cannot believe how slow they are. The problem is that they are generally made up of people of mixed abilities ie. a few fat arses who are slow and moan.
The vast majority of people also trek with the aid of porters and guides so they do not even carry their own bags! I was doing this all on my own and carrying my own bag - I mean where are people's sense of adventure?
The Oz group were all in pretty much good shape, I am referring to the English group that I met - an embarrassment to our once great nation.

Day 3:
D: 15km
CD: 44km
HR: 2,300mtrs

Leaving the Oz group behind I set out early again and after about 2 hours came across a group of lads - 2 Italians (Fausto, Frederrico), an Indian (Dipesh), an Israeli (Guy) and Guy's porter Raj. I will forgive Guy having a ported as he damaged his back doing his national service. These lads would be my company for the next few days and made the trip for me.
I also have to add that Raj was like a Yoda of the mountains - great bloke.
So I trekked the rest of the day with the boys and it soon became apparent that they all enjoyed a spliff or 5.

That is the good thing about Nepal and trekking. If you like to smoke then this is the place to be. My map actually indicated 'fields of marijuana' and you just walk past it growing. Even old ladies, or mothers with little babies are sat in the doorway of their huts offering it to you.

The lads also enjoyed the use of a chillum to get them going and they would be at it for breakfast, lunch, dinner and deep into the evening (although everyone goes to bed at about 8pm as you are so knackered from the days walking and it is bloody cold as well).
I can't say that I was partial to the smoking during trekking hours, but once the days exertions were over, well, 'when in Rome....'

I have not really gone into the what I saw as I was walking but literally every corner you turned the scene changed. There would be snow capped mountains, green valleys and hills, deep blue rivers, waterfalls hundreds of metres high, villages perched on mountain sides. I took well over 400 photos during my trek and will try and upload my top 20 onto Facebook to give you an ideas of what it was like. However, to really appreciate it you will have to get of your bum and do it for yourself.

Day 4:
D: 26.5km
CD: 70.5km
HR: 3,300mtrs

This was a really hard days walk. The bonus was that we started to get quite high up which improved the views for us all.
Myself and Fausto both had a great appreciation for The Lord of the Rings and today it felt as though we were really in the land of the Rohan. The villages and setting was identical - we loved it!

Day 5:
D: 19.5km
CD: 90km
HR: 3,540mtrs

The morning started with a hill climb that lasted for over 2hrs. It was a killer. There is nothing more to say.
The day ended with us reaching Manang which we would stay at for 2 nights to have a rest day and to acclimatise (a must according to all of the guide books).

Day 6:
Rest day

Myself and Guy went for an early morning walk Raj to help our accilimatisation. We walked up 500 metres to a brilliant viewpoint that overlooked a glacier lake and the village.
The rest of the lads stayed at the hotel and got stoned! ha ha.
Later on in the afternoon we went for a walk and heard a band playing in a little shack on the hill. We went to investigate and just hung out whilst the band rehearsed for their evening gig in the village. We were invited to attend so later on that evening we went to see them play. It was a good gig (sort of) but the highlight was Dipesh getting hassled by a local lad. Not sure why he took a shine to Dipesh but when we left the lad followed him and kept grabbing him and pulling him back to the gig. The rest of us thought it was hillarious but in the end Guy had to step in as he started to get aggressive. Still, we took the p*ss out of Dipesh all evening for it.

Day 7:
D: 9km
CD: 99km
HR: 4,018mtrs

The walking was getting much more difficult now the higher we got which is why the distances covered dropped significantly. We also had to take our time due to the possibility of altitude sickness. We met a lot of people who had had to come back down as they were to ill to continue. Someone even had to be airlifted out!
Unfortunately, one of these people was Frederrico. He decided that it was getting to difficult for him so he decided to depart and go back down to Pokhara. It was a shame but we had to press on.
We got to our destination at about 2pm and then relaxed for the rest of the day.
This day would turn out to be one of my favourite days and nights.
At this village we met another group of lads and what followed would only happen when you are travelling: we played top trumps with Tanks. Try to imagine the scene, we are all adults sat around a wood burner, shouting out the tank's weight, height, cannon size, engine size etc. At one point I counted that there were 9 different nationalities playing at one time - absolutely brilliant!

Day 8: Thorung La Pass Eve
D: 6km
CD: 105km
HR: 4,450

So day 8 was Thorung La Pass Eve. The Pass is what we were all here for, it is the top of the circuit and the highest point we would reach, 5,416 metres. The Thorung Pass is also the world's largest pass.
We got to Thorung Phedi early in the afternoon and prepared for our assault on the pass the next morning by enjoying the fruit of the mountains and playing more Tanks with the lads.

Day 9: Thorung La Pass day

At 4am it all went wrong for me. I woke up feeling very ill indeed.
I quickly got up and tried to get outside to the toilets. In the darkness I couldn't find the lock to the door and by the time I did get outside I had hamster cheeks - nice. I was hemorrhaging from both ends - I think a combination of food posioning and altitude sickness.
Still I got up at 5:30am to make the crossing of the pass at 6:30am with the lads.

The first part of the day's walk is to climb up 500 metres over a very short distance - an absolute killer. Half way up the hill I realised that today would not be the day to make the pass for me. I had no energy and felt really rough and dizzy. You cannot imagine how horrible it was to wave goodbye to the lads and descend back down to the village to get back into bed. I was gutted.
What was worse was that all of the lads including Yoda of the Himalayas were going to smoke a chillum at 5,416 metres and I wanted to be part of it - boo hoo.

Throughout the day the hotel owner kept checking up on me and told me that if I did not improve I would need to keep descending. That was not going to happen so I made myself get up and walk about to try and sort myself out.
What did perk me up was that the Oz group had now caught me up and I was able to sit with them for the afternoon / evening. The bonus was that there were 2 doctors in the group and they administered some drugs to me which helped a lot.

Day 10:  Thorung La Pass day II
D: 16km
CD: 121km
HR: 5,416 mtrs

I didn't wake up to Sonny and Cher on the radio but I certainly felt like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day. I felt a lot better today and I was going to cross the pass no matter what. I still wasn't particularly fond of food and had only managed to eat some boiled potatoes and half a bowl of porridge in about 36hrs but it was 6:30am and time to start climbing.
As with the start of my trek this would be a climb that I would do on my own.
Just before the pass I overtook the British group who had set out at 4am to make the pass - that is what I mean about groups being slow - and remember, they were not carrying bags. Mine weighed about 12kgs and I was recovering from illness - stupid lazy Brits!

Anyway, I made the pass and it was worth the effort. It was very cold but the sun was shining and the views were spectacular. I stayed up there for about 40mins before I started my descent down the other side.

I got to my destination at about 2pm and would you believe it, the lads were just about to get into a Jeep to go down to the next town. As they saw me walking down the village path they all dropped their stuff and came running up to me to give me a big hug - even Yoda! I didn't cry or anything but it felt really good to see them as I felt as if I had unfinished business with them and hadn't had a chance to say goodbye properly the day before.
So I jumped into the Jeep with them and made my way dwon to the next town. As I sat in the Jeep I was gutted - it turned out that this leg of the walk would probably be one of the most dramatic scenery wise and I would have walked down the edge of a spectacular canyon. I told myself at that point that I would not be taking any other transport for the rest of the trek.

Day 11:
D: 43km
CD: 183km
HR: 1,190mtrs

The lads decided to get another bus down to a town called Tatopani on this day, except for Guy who took a flight back to Pokhara as he was out of trekking time. As I had decided the day before that I wouldn't miss any more walking I set off at 6:30am with the intention of meeting them there. I slightly mis-calcualted the distance I had to walk to meet them, but I was determined to make it as we were then all going to walk up to Ghorepani the next day to take in the views from Poon Hill.
I am not sure how many people have completed a marathon in the Himalayan mountains but on day 11 I did just that.
The walk was amazing and I walked past the 7th tallest mountain in the world, but by 3pm I was exhausted and my legs were killing me. Just as well that it only took me another 2.5 hrs to get to my destination!!
It was my own fault so I have no complaints but I really also should stopped for lunch. That day I completed 43km on breakfast, 1 litre of water, 500ml of coke and a Mars bar - I am a fool at times.
When I finally did meet up with the lads I could hardly walk and then they told me that they were done with trekking and were heading back the next day, so I needn't have killed myself.
Their decision was based upon the fact that during the bus journey the back wheel had slipped off a bridge and they were sat at that point in the bus - it had shaken them pretty badly. The Nepali people laughed and said that it was common for that to happen!

Day 12:
D: 12km
CD: 195km
HR: 2,390mtrs

Today was supposed to be a rest day according to the itinerary and my aching legs but after chilling out in the hot springs for a couple of hours I decided to get walking again as it was now just me. I left Tatopani at 12:30pm with the intention of getting to Ghorepani that day. Every Nepali I asked said that it was foolish to start at that time and that I wouldn't make it - and for once they were right and I missed my target.
I got as far as Chitre, the village before Ghorepani, and knew that it was only 1 hour more walk to the place, but it was getting dark and I would be walking through jungle on my own.
I did run into a group of 4 Brits at Chitre who were going to carry on but when I asked their guide how long it would take them he said at least 2 hours because they were slow. I couldn't be bothered with following them for longer than was necessary when I knew it shouldn't take that long.
Plus 2 of the British men looked like the hunter out of Jumanji minus the hat - and there was I stood in my khaki shorts and Rocky t-shirt.
So I stayed the night in Chitre in a big lodge all to myself. Later on I went into the substantial dining room to look at the menu and decided there was no way I was sitting in here alone.
It was only the next day that I realised why I felt so anxious not to stay in the lodge and dining room on my own - I felt like Jack Nicholson in The Shining with the place to myself!!
So I went down to the kitchen which was in a seperate part of the lodge and sat in there with the family and 2 of their friends. The kitchen in Nepal in the central area for people to hang out - mainly because there is an open fire for cooking and it is warm.
So I sat with the family and ate my food whilst one of their friends went through every animal in Nepal and asked if we had it in England. Quite funny.

Day 13:
D: 5km
CD: 200km
HR: 2,860mtrs

It only took me about 1hr 15 of easy walking to get to Ghorepani. As the views from Poon Hill are best observed at sunrise I had my long overdue rest day.
I met a really cool Swedish girl called Martina and just hung out for the day.
Not sure if you have ever done this, but we had a game of snooker on a full size table as close to 3,000 metres. Martina being from Sweden did not know the rules but I got a little nervous when on her 3rd shot she made a break of 9. I hit back with my own high break of 9 too (watch out Rocket Ronnie) and won the frame. I won't lie though, I was shockingly bad.

Day 14:
D: 16km
CD: 216km
HR: 2,170mtrs

The day started at 5:30am with a short trek up to Poon Hill for sunrise. From here you get to see the sun rise over the clouds and illiminate the mountains in the distance - it was pretty special.
From here I would then make my trek to Annapurna Base Camp which should take 4/5 nights. As I had been trekking for 2 wks now and was acclimatised as well as feeling quite fit I did it in 2 nights.
So I set off and made my way to Chomrong and my favorite of the lodges that I stayed in.
On my way there I got stuck in the middle of a herd of goat being moved from one village to another - not great when you are on a narrow track on the side of a moutain.
In Chomrong I stayed at the Chomrong Cottage. The owner was a really nice middle aged lady who baked the best chocolate cake - it was even featured in Time magazine (she showed me the article).

I spent the evening in the company of an English man and his French wife who were on their way back from ABC.

Day 15:
D: 15km
CD: 231km
HR: 3,200mtrs

This walk was just all uphill. Nothing more to say except that part of it was through a bamboo forest.
Spent the evening with a retired English couple who have lived and travelled all over the world. Full respect to them for being up here in the cold and still trekking at their age.

Day 16: Arrival at ABC
D: 9km
CD: 240km
HR: 4,130mtrs

As I was on a mission by now and at peak trekking fitness I made it to ABC by 11am that morning. The advantage of being fast was that I was the only person at ABC apart from 2 lodge owners so had the place to myself.
ABC was amazing. You are stood in the middle of 9 different peaks that surround you - pretty inspiring. One of the mountains is Annapurna 1 which is the 10th tallest in the world and apparently the most difficult mountain to climb in the world(?)
After taking it all in and having a few photos taken I decided to take a walk to a little hill just past the lodge for a better view.
The problem with being here is that all perspective of height and distance is just blown out of proportion. The little hill took 1 hour to scale and was about 500 metres in height. However, the reward to for completing it was probably my favourite memory (running Tanks top trumps close).
There were a number of glaciers on the mountains and from here you could stand in the silence and actually here them moving and rocks falling under their weight and movement. It was mental.
Then all of a sudden there was a rumble quite close to me and some rocks fell close by. I looked and realised that a few hundred feet above me there was a massive overhang of snow and that the rumble could mean absolutely anything. For the first time on my trek I was really scared and a little freaked out - so I got down asap.
Also as ABC there was a huge canyon where a glacier had once been - I cant explain the actual scale of it all.
Anyway, by mid-afternoon I had the company of 2 Germans who I am actually meeting for dinner tonight once I finish this post.
Sunset that night was spectacular. The mountains went from gold to rose and then dark. Later that night we went outside and the view looking up was a circle of white snowy peaks with thousands of stars in the middle.

Day 17:
D: 24km
CD: 264km

Up for sunrise at ABC. Again spectacular - reds and gold on the moutains.
By this time I was ready to get back to the warm and relax by the lake in Pokhara. 2.5 weeks in the mountains is hard work and all you want to do is go to the toilet and not shiver whilst you do your business!

So I set a fast pace and decided to get to Chomrong by the end of the day, which meant that after 1 more night I could be out of the mountains.
I did make it to Chomrong but descending 2,000 metres in one day took its toll. The last hour was pure agony - my knees were absolutely buggered. Through football I have damaged the anterior ligaments in both of my knees and they both started to play up. I do not mind admitting that I was close to tears by the end but I made it and was rewarded with some chocolate cake at the Cottage and was offered my same room as before. Bless Didi, the owner.
I also got to have a beer (my first in 4wks) and dinner with 4 Oz women and again got contact details for when I land in March. It also always helps when they are all attractive and 2 of them were twins - not sure why I am telling you all that!!!

Day 18: The end
D: 20km
DC: 284km

Early start again and made my way back to civilisation. As much as I was looking forward to it, it was quite upsetting when I finally got to busier places. I had gotten so used to my own company in the day time and then just coming across the odd person at lunch or in the evening.
But anyway, by 3pm I was at the end of the trek and on my way to Pokhara, a hot shower and a steak (meat was lacking in the mountains)

So that was that. I trekked for 18 days, covered 284km, had altitude sickness, got as high as 5,416 metres and got close up to a number of mountains including the 7th and 10th tallest in the world and I absolutely loved it.
Being alone in the mountains allows you clarity of thought and for the first time in my life I had an empty mind. All I thought about was what was in front of me - view after amazing view.
There were a few times when I had my i-pod on and the advantage is that there was no-one around to hear my awful voice, but it was still really cool.

1 tip - if you ever go trekking, bring your own chocolate. Snickers and Mars bars are valued commodities up there and they charge you for the priviledge. Still, you cant beat a deep fried Snickers at 4,000 metres after a long day!

So the day after I got back I did what I had been thinking of for the past few days. I got a picnic, hired a rowing boat, rowed out into the middle of Pokhara lake and just sat back in the sun and read my book - lovely jubilee.
The only problem was that when it was time to return I had drifted so far it took me 45mins to get back to shore.

Tomorrow I am off to Chitwan National Park, they have wild rhinos, tigers and leopards. The difference here is that you walk around and are not in a Jeep. Apparently there is a very real threat of getting into trouble with a rhino and tourists are killed every now and then.
Wicked - sounds like fun. I have read up on my safety tips - run in zig-zags, hide behind trees and throw clothing to distract them.
I will let you know how I get on!!!!

Monday, 29 November 2010

So you can smoke a spliff at the Nepalese immigration office - who knew?

Namaste from Nepal.

Before going into how excited I am about my trek starting tomorrow I will bring you up to speed from the last few days.
In my last post I said I was off to watch the cremations at the burning ghats in Varanasi, and that is just what I did and saw far more than I wanted to.
I took the short walk to the cremation sight and sat at a respectable distance with a few other tourists watching the proceedings. My main focus was on the pyre closest to me which was about 15 metres away and I told myself I would watch the enitre thing from start to finish. After about 15 mins the other tourists moved on so it was just me sitting on some steps. As with all of India, a white person is a target for a conversation, so I got talking to a local about this and that but still watching what was going on when one of the cremation workers walked up to the pyre I was watching with a big stick.
The next thing I see is him put the stick into the pyre underneath the body (which was now bare as the wrappings had burned away) and sit it up!
So there I am chatting to a local about nonsense and in front of me a burning body is sat up like it is alive. It was well crispy by this stage but all of the hair was still there and it still looked far too human. When I thought that this was freaky enough he walks around the other side and clouts the body with the stick snapping it in half, on top of itself! Basically, this done to keep the fire in a central location and burning, but it was a bit full on and then watching a loose arm flailing around at the side was, how can I say, interesting.
All this and the family of the deceased are watching as well. Actually, only the men are allowed to attend because women are weak and will cry (Indian view not mine) and there is a belief that tears will steal the soul and stop its ascent to heaven.

So that was my first morning in Varanasi, after my early morning boat ride described in my last post.

Didn't do much else that day except have some lunch and spent 2 hours or so chatting to an Austrian artist over the dinner table.
The evening was spent having a little wonder around, watching the nightly pooja (priests and prayers etc to the Ganges and the gods) and then hanging out at my hotel in the rooftop restaurant just chatting to various travellers.

Next day was quite relaxed too. A friend I met in Darjeeling came over and we just spent the day chatting on the rooftop like 2 old women (she was a women so it was fine for her).
In the evening I went on a night-time boat trip which added a new dimension to all of the proceedings going on on the ghats. Both the pooja and the burning ghat was very eerie in the darkness, but the highlight for me was being allowed to row the boat. Not many people can say they have rowed a boat down the river Ganges past burning bodies!
Then just back to the hotel and dinner with various other travellers.
Varanasi is a full on place and like no other I have been to in my life, but I liked it and it was probably a fitting place to end the Indian adventure.

Next day I left for Nepal and a mammoth journey - still it turned out to be very funny, having met more strange people, which I just seem to do.

Jouney times to Pokhara in Nepal were as follows:
Train from Varanasi to Gorakhpur - 6hrs
Local bus from Gorakhpur to the Indian border - 3 hrs
Local bus from the Nepalese border to Pokhara - 10 hrs

My plan was to get to Gorakhpur and then get some kip before continuing, but that didn't quite happen and I did the whole thing in one go.

All pretty uneventful until I got to the border at 1am.
So at 1am I had to wake up Indian immigration, as you can expect they were not happy. As I then approach the border to pass there is a group of 3 guys arguing with a taxi driver. Over the next few hours I discover that 1 of them loves an argument, and yes he was English, yes he was an old toff from the old school, and yes I did think he was a complete dick! (His name was Richard, so quite fitting really)
Anyway, we all cross the border and then have to wake up Nepalese immigration! I made sure I was first as being a very organised person I already got my visa sorted in the UK before I left. The other 3 (Dicky dickhead), Ludwig (26 from Germany) and Subos (who I kept calling Subo because I couldn't get it out of my head) a Nepalese national, hadn't sorted their visas. Well Subo obviously didn't need one.

Anyway, I ended up having to wait with them whilst the visas were processed but it was worth it because Dicky was such a complete div.
Firstly, Ludwig didn't know that he needed a passport photo to apply for a visa so there a big discussion about this.
Dicky of course stepped in.
1) he commented on how annoying the bureaucracy was to me (I didn't comment as I thought he was being stupid for saying it - of course you need a photo for your visa!)
2) he then offered up one of his own photos for Ludwig - which I couldn't believe was actually accepted
3) he then moans at the 100 rupee fee for accepting this - 100 Nepalese rupees is about 90p!!!
Agggghh - what a dick
Then to my utter disbelief, whilst the visa is being processed, Subo and Dicky spark up a spliff! I asked what the score was and Subo said it was all good.

So we eventually get over the border at about 2:30am and go to the local buses next to the border gate. The first bus was set to depart at 4am, so I found myself sitting next to the border crossing at 3am on a little bench in front of a table with a gas stove eating egg noodles and drinking coffee made by a little Nepalese woman.

Obviously I had to talk to the 3 Amigo's and it turns out Subo was Dicky's nephew through adoption, and Ludwig (I found out later on the bus journey) was Dicky's rent boy - I kid you not!
Dicky owns an 8 bedroom gaff in Berlin and has founded a 'group'. Ludwig was invited to join this group (cult) and is now Dicky's partner - but there is no commitment he assured me.
Dicky McDickhead also told me about his property portfolio worth a few million whilst smoking a spliff and how I should do such and such a trek because he has been to Nepal many times. Such a nob.

So the bus to Pokhara takes 10hrs, shared with many many locals ie. so closesly packed that one woman had to support herself sitting opposite me with her hands on my thighs - a very nice way to wake up I can tell you.
Still, the scenery was fantastic.

Eventually we get to Pokhara and Mr 'I have a cock on my head' is very angry indeed. He grabbed the driver by the scruff of the neck and threatened him because he didn't like how he spoke to him and he had lied to him about the route he took. Apparently there was another route that would take 3 hours less but I guess all of the locals who rely on the bus to get to little villages in the middle of nowhere on the route don't count for much!
Finally we get a taxi to Lakeside in Pokhara and I say my goodbyes. I could've checked out their hotel, but I think you can tell that I am maybe not too keen on Dicky, so I found my own place.

I spent the afternoon looking around, getting some trekking info and then went to meet another lad I met in Darjeeling who was leaving for he trek today. We got some dinner and then both being Spurs fans we watched a deserved victory against Liverpool.

Today was a trek prepare day. Got my permits sorted and bought some trekking gear from a cool old woman. After I had finished my purchasing we had a cup of tea together and she told me all about Pokhara and the costs of rents for shops etc - bloody expensive.
Oh, the permit office was a few km's away, so I hired a mountain bike for the journey. Was excellent riding alongside the lake with a view of forests and mountains.
I like Pokhara - it reminds me a lot of Airlie Beach in Oz. It is a party town, with lots of live music where people are either waiting to go trekking or have just come back, as opposed to the destination being the cruises to Whitsunday Islands in Airlie Beach. (somewhere I am going to work for a while) 

So that brings you up to speed. Tomorrow I venture out into the wilderness (well not quite but close enough) on a 20-25 day trek. I am doing to Annapurna circuit and then going straight into the Annapurna base camp trek. I am planning to do it in 20 days as need to get to Kathmandu for Xmas.
I am really excited. I have wanted to do this sort of thing all of my life, so I will struggle to sleep tonight like it's Xmas eve or something.

Right, that's it, I am off for some dinner. The place next door has live music on and the bloke is murdering every single song - now that is entertainment so I am going there.

Bye for now and hopefully I will have lots to tell you about in 3 wks or so, and will also be a little lighter and more toned!

And on that note I have one more thing to say - Let's 'ave it!!!

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Happy birthday to me......

It seems like a lot has happened since I was last on my blog but I will try and summarise as quickly as possible as I have been up for 29hrs and I am a little tired. Also, to add to my fuzzy head and sense of being 'out of it', I am in Varanasi and below the window of where I am sat are numerous bodies being cremated which are then pushed into the Ganges river - which by the way is the filthiest stretch of water I have ever seen. I arrived at 3am this morning and waited until sunrise to get a boat down the river. On the boat ride I saw cremated bodies, people washing and praying in the river, a dead dog floating by and to top it all off my boat man was off his head on something and was drinking the water!!!! Uggghhhh!

But back to my last update - I was leaving Varkala in pain.
And it got worse!
I left Varkala at 6am in the morning knowing that the journey ahead of me to get to Darjeeling consisted of a train, followed by 2 planes, followed by another 2 trains. I got as far as plane number 1, which suffered technical difficulties and my plans were buggered. Basically I was left stranded in Chennai for 24hrs until the next days flight, which normally would have been fine as Air India were at fault and put me up in a really expensive hotel (after fannying around for 2hrs to sort it all out) and paid for all of meals; but you have to remember that I was suffering from Freddy Kruger style burns and just wanted to be in a cold dark room and not have to move anywhere! It took 2 days for me just to be able to feel my lips and my chest had blistered all over.
Anyway, I decided to 'man-up' and after a quick visit to the train station the next morning to re-arrange my train from Calcutta to New Jaipalguri I caught my plane 24hrs later than sheduled to Calcutta. Arriving in Calcutta I literally caught a taxi directly to the train station and having seen the sheer volume of traffic and 'mentalness' that was going on, I am glad that I decided to skip any more Indian cities. Calcutta is so poor that people are still offered transport via hand pulled rickshaw!

The night train left Calcutta without any hitch and got me to New Jaipalguri the next morning - 3 hours late. By this time I had missed the rather pleasant toy train up to Darjeeling so had to take a shared jeep on the 3 hour trip up into the mountains. I never knew 11 Indians and 1 Englishman could fit into a jeep!
It was really good though. The way up into the mountains took in lots of winding roads where the jeep was literally on the edge of the cliff - quite exciting.

I got into Darjeeling exactly 24 hours later than planned but still arrived a day before my birthday which was the main aim. The next aim was to find a place to stay with a lots of travellers so that I would not be a Billy No-Mates on my big day.
Literally 30 minutes later I had found a place to stay, had met 3 Spurs fans and was lined up to watch the Spurs vs Arsenal match that night - you have to love travelling when it all works out like that.
Well it didnt quite all work out, I decided to leave my accomodation 1 hour later as I couldn't face the damp sheets in the freezing cold room with only the promise of a bucket of hot water each morning to wash in - so I upgraded to a hot shower and dry sheets.
Still, that night I watched the mighty Spurs triumph over the scum with a group of about 10 people who would become really good mates over the next few days. There was a mixed group of lads and girls consisting of 5 English, 2 Danes, 1 Dutch and 3 Irish.
The next day - my birthday - was a real treat. A football match had been arranged and we managed to get a 7-a-side game sorted. I have to say that it is the most beautiful setting that I have played (and won) a game of football - on the side of a mountain, 2,200 mtrs up in the Himalayan foothills.
That evening we went for pizza, beers and the guys got me a birthday cake with a candle - nearly brought a tear to my eye, but not quite.

The day after was even better for a 31 yr old man with the mentality of a child - the zoo and the cinema! It was like having my birthday all over again. Only a Happy Meal from McDonalds was missing.
Unfortunately the zoo was a little depressing. It was amazing to see a snow leopard, probably the only chance I will get to ever see one, but seeing all of the big cats in small cages was not good. The tiger was so impressive though - absolutely huge. I probably spent about 30 mins just watching him pace back and forth in front of me.
I also met a really nice couple from the UK at the zoo who now live in Indonesia. I spent the afternoon with them and now have a place to stay if I venture over that way. They told me about a nightclub they go to in Jakarta that sounds out of this world - legal there but very illegal in the UK - sounds class.
To top it all off, that evening, me and 3 of the girls went to watch the new Harry Potter (in the Himalayas). I loved it! Poor Dobby :-(

Being in Darjeeling, home of the 'Rolls Royce' of teas, it would be rude not to visit the tea plantation. Now I cannot stand tea, taste or smell, but when in Rome....
So a few of us went on a tour of the factory, quite odd seeing signs up for Harrods, and then to the tea house to taste some of Darjeeling's finest. Can you believe that I had my first ever full cup of tea. It was ok, but I have not been converted and tea is still 'not my cup of tea'.
The best thing about the plantation was the view; real snow capped mountians not far away looking like they were touching the ceiling of the sky - amazing.
That night a new traveller arrived who wanted to see Harry Potter - so I took her. Twice in the 2 days - wicked.
Later that evening I said my farewells to everyone as I was off early the next day but the good thing is that I should be catching up with a few of them again. 1 in Nepal in a week or so, and 3 others in Jan in Thailand.

So I left Darjeeling, which I have to say is a really interesting and relaxed place. Most travellers I had met had just hung around there for a week or 2 doing not a lot. I only spent 5 days there, but it was really nice just to do the same as them and hang around like when I was at uni.

Not much to add about my train journey to Darjeeling except that I sat opposite a gay Amercian man from San Fancisco whose name was Yves (male version of Eve for the illiterates among you) - we had a good old laugh about that!!!
He was a really interesting bloke though. He was a retired medic from ther US Army, been to all of the recent wars etc and had some crazy stories. It helped pass the 10 hour train journey.

So I will end where I began. I got to Varansi this morning and I am off to go and explore now. Meeting a friend tonight who I met in Darjeeling and we are going to take a boat down the Ganges after sunset which is supposed to be really eerie. I will have to see if it is better than sunrise.
One thing is for certain, it is an absolute doss-hole here. Still, I am in the City of the Dead so what did I expect? This is where Indians come to die - and the place smells like it too. It also looks like the dogs and cows come here to die as well!

I am going to go and watch some bodies burn in a minute. Apparently they make real loud bangs / pops when the internal gases burn, and if a limb hangs out of the fire they will snap it and fold it back into the middle of the pyre! Gruesome, but compelling viewing - maybe?

Well that is it for India. My next post will come Nepal - and the cold.
Can't believe my first country is done and I have completed 8 wks. Feels like it has been a lot longer but it has been an excellent adventure so far and I have met some really cool people, some of which I will definitely see again.
Bring on country number 2!

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

What time is it? It's chilly time!

I am reporting from the mini Utopia of Varkala is south Kerala. I love this place although it is a little touristy, but the people, the beaches and the travellers here have made it my best 4 days yet. The bonus is that I wasn't even supposed to be here and only decided to get off of the train after speaking to locals about it and asking their opinion.
Before I got here I was in Fort Cochin for a couple of days. It was a really nice, laid back place. Not much to do except watch the fishermen who still Chinese fishing nets to catch the fish, but it was good. You get to the place via the local ferries which adds something to it, especially when there is a ferry traffic-jam and you have to climb through 4 boats to get to dry land.
Whilst in Cochin I also went on a trip of the backwaters. You spend the morning in a canoe being taken around the narrow waterways. After that you get out and are given a guided tour around the village. That was really good as the guide showed us all of the local plants that are used and you get to smell and taste them. For example, there was nutmeg, pepper, cinnamon, old spice and curry. Sounds a bit gay, I know, but it was really good to see it in it natural form and not on a supermarket shelf. I never knew what a pepper plant looked like because you just don't think about it.
Being shown the natural medicines was good too - getting back to basics and knowing you can live off of the forest etc, if you know what you are doing!
We then had a traditional lunch eaten off a banana leaf which was excellent and the beer helped too!
The afternoon was then spent on a houseboat travelling around the lake. Most people slept for this but I was sitting with 2 English girls who have been travelling for a couple of years so I picked their brains about Oz and New Zealand.
So that was Fort Cochin, quiet, relaxed and beautiful sunsets - like everywhere else in India I guess.
Oh another thing about Cochin is that alcohol isn't really on the menu so it gets served to you in a teapot so the authorities don't see it!

Whilst in Cochin I got talking to a couple of Indian lads. I got the same old questions about if I was travelling alone and if I was married as at 30 yr old I should be!
It is so different here. A girl has to be married by 22 and a boy by 28, and it will be arranged. They really do not have much freedom to choose a partner. Then once married they will all live at the man's parents house, the entire family and whatever is earnt by each individual is split fairly between everyone.
Now I obviously would not want to live like this, but I must say one thing. I have yet to meet a young Indian male who is not polite, friendly and is doing their best to get an education to improve themselves. Which is a lot more than I can say about the youth in my own country.
The saddest part about it is no matter how well they are doing at work, because the wages aren't great and the money has to be split between family none of them are likely to leave their own country even though a high percentage of people I have met dream of doing so to see some of the world. Another thing I have to be grateful for I guess.

On the morning of leaving Cochin my hotel owner told me not to go the Kovalam, where I was originally supposed to be heading and instead stop off at Varkala. I then thought I would ask the opinion of the restaurant owner and someone on the train and they all agreed that Varkala was best, so I went with the local knowledge and turned up at about 8pm with no where to stay.
The train journey there was an experience. There was a massive electrical storm so I spent 2 hours hanging out of the door of a fast moving train watching it. Bloody brilliant.
Once at Varkala, I met a rickshaw driver who assured me he could get me a good place to stay at a good rate so I decided to give him a chance. As I turned up I was very dubious as we approached from the back. Once I got to the front I could've hugged him. The room was one of the best yet, it was cheap and the location was excellent.
Varkala is set along the top of a cliff and mainly made up of the restaurants / bars and shops. My room was right in the middle and has a sea view - nice.
The Rock N Roll bar is next door and you get 10% off staying at my hotel. So I thought on my first night I would check it out. I got in there at 9pm and left at 5am. It was one of the owner's birthday so he was dragging everyone in who walked past. At one point there were about 25 of us all sat around a table getting on it. I ended up hanging out with 2 Norwegian and 2 American girls (I like female company) and that is who I have spent the last 3 days with - more so with the Norwegians.
The only bad part of the evening was the birthday boy getting into a fight with some other locals and having to leave town for a couple of days, but more on that later.
One funny thing that happened was an Essex girl (who tried to steal my book) got too p*ssed and walked straight out of the bar and over the cliff edge. Fortunately it wasn't a big drop at this point but she didn't know that because it was dark and she was rescued 'hanging' onto the edge. It is bad but I still think it is funny.
An uncomfortable moment that I had that night was when speaking to an English couple that I think had consumed more than just alcohol. As I am talking to the lad, his bird starts to squeeze and rub my leg!! The lad saw it too and didn't quite know what to say, so I just carried on talking like it wasn't happening and moved my leg. Then she started rubbing my arm and I just had to shift my chair little bit to the side - how random.

Next day after finally getting up we spent the remainder of the day at the beach, followed by a 4am finish in Rock N Roll. It was a funny night. Myself, Unni, Sigrid (the Norwegians) and Max (bar owner) spent the evening playing 'Sh*thead' (A card game for those of you who do not know). The forfeit for losing was to eat a chilly. I lost 4 times. Max lost 8 times, and as an Indian he still struggled with the chillies. Hot hot hot.

Yesterday was again a very lazy day. By lazy I mean lunch and a visit to the cash machine. We then hit Rock N Roll again for more cards but agreed not to use chillies. Instead it was shots of rum.
Before we know it, the chillies made an appearance and in the course of 20 games I lost 9 times. So 4 shots and 5 chillies for me. Chilly number 5 was unbelievable. Numbers 2 and 3 had already given me a spinny room and my t-shirt was quite damp from the sweat but number 5 literally blew my head off. There are a series of photos that show the event of number 5 taking place and I will get the onto Facebook when I can - there are funny.
The night then took a dark turn. Hiness (who left town for fighting) was back and no sooner had he got back to the bar those other blokes came looking for him. What happened next can only be described as shocking. I didn't see it all as we just sat at the table drinking, but there were knives and glass in use, and big knives too. Our card game was cut short as Max tried to keep the peace and ended up in hospital for his trouble. A nice knife wound that needed stitches. I was told today that 2 blokes from the 'other side' are still in hospital and needed to surgery to repair their wounds. It was mental and all set to the back drop of a massive storm on a cliff side - like some sort of action movie.
Even though that was all crazy and just plain reckless and stupid it hasn't ruined my experience here. My time spent with Unni, Sigrid, Max and the yanks has been brilliant and I will be sorry to leave.

What has ruined my time here was getting badly sunburnt today. It wasn't even my fault! I bought some sun lotion which I discovered this afternoon (which was about 3 hours too late) had expired. Couple that with the fact that I am secreting chilly sweat and you have a recipe for disaster. I was only in the sun for 2 hours but the burns are bad. Lobster isn't quite a good enough analogy for my appearance.

Still I am heading to Darjeeling tomorrow, which is in the foothills of North-East India. So no more burns. I will not see a beach again now until mid-January at least as Frodo Baggins is now embarking on his mission through the Himalayas after 2 final stops in India. I still have 2 more weeks in this country but I already know that I will miss it a lot. I am so very glad that I chose to come here. Yes there have been times when I wanted to get out but mostly it has been brilliant. If anyone gets the chance to come, I would tell you to do it 100%.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

A blast from the very distant past

I sit here waiting to go down to Cochin in Kerala and looking back on the last 2 days in Goa can only be described as a surreal but worthwhile time.
I got into Goa about 3 hours late due to us being on the edge of a tropical storm. I didn't see any of it as I slept through it all but the flooded train tracks told the story for me. Therefore, I got into Baga for about midday. My reason for choosing Baga as my destination in Goa was because I read that it was the party capital of India - I wouldn't actually know that because I spent all of my drinking time in an old man English pub!!

I met 3 English lads who were staying at my hotel and on the first night I went our for food with them and they were telling me about this old pub where a load of ex-pats and people who come out here for 6mths at a time drink; the added bonus was that it was a Spurs pub and I could watch the match that was on that night (a nice 1:30am kick off).
So the lads took me to this pub where I met Craig the landlord, Barry the bookie who runs a book on all the games and in his spare time he also makes Scotch Eggs which he sells in the pub!!! There was Noel, who worships the sun and the women, he was about 60 but had a couple of birds at home in their late twenties (so he says). I met a few other blokes as well, they all live out here for the English winter and all they do is drink every day - not a bad life.
So I am watching the Spurs game with Barry and we are talking about this and that. He asks me where I am from and I explain originally that I am from Leicester but moved away for uni etc. He turns around and calls over a bloke and introduces me to him because he is from Leicester and of course we all know each other. It turns out that I did know him, and I used to know him very well indeed.

It took me a couple of minutes to realise who I was looking at but it was the dad of my best friend from birth up until about the age of 12 (although I need to mention that during the last couple of years of this period I did meet Stu 'The Pooh Bear' Hayden who would go onto to become one of my top homeboys and I still hang around with him today - love you pooh!).
Colin (my mate's dad) sat next to my dad at school and then they were drinking partners during their teens and early 20's. Myself and Ben (his son) were born a couple of months apart and were inseparable until we went to different secondary schools.
The reason that this was such a surreal experience is that unfortunately Ben died in his mid-20's in a car crash and I was unable to make the funeral (probably the only regret I carry around with me), so I had not seen Colin for about 20 years. Even more poigniant was being reminded that of the group of about 7 of us that went through nursery and primary school together and would hang out at Colin's house is that only 4 of us were still alive by our mid-20's too - something I am all too aware of.
So we had a good booze up and talked for hours about the 'old days'.

Yesterday I spent the day at the beach, not much to tell except that the water was lovely and warm.
In the evening I had the option of either going to a club and trying to pull some Russian birds (unlikely) or going for a roast dinner with Colin and his wife. I chose the latter, it was bloody lovely, and then they took me to play bingo at the 'local' that I had frequented the night before. It was really funny, they still use all of the 'legs eleven' bingo lingo. We then carried on boozing and watched more footy until the early hours.
Like most people there, Colin and his Mrs are out here for 4 mths at least - my aim is to be able to get myself a job that allows me to do this.
However, I couldn't get on the lash like they all do every day. Colin was drinking half pints of Brandy mixed with Port and I saw him have about 8 of them - that is hardcore, and that will be the pattern 7 days a week for the next 4mths - that would kill me, but fair play to him.

So that was Goa. Not the big party I had hoped for, but a really good two days none the less.

Monday, 8 November 2010

I have actually just been to another world

Yo yo yo people

I am currently sat in an internet cafe in Mumbai waiting for my train to Goa. I was supposed to be there 2 days ago but decided to make a last minute change and go to Pune for a 2 day stay at a meditation centre. Yes I know that doesn't sound like me but you have to try everything once, and there was also a rumour of sexual enlightment which was a big reason for going!
So off I went to the Osho resort.

In order to get to Pune I had to make an early morning visit to the train station which was not welcomed after my night out with the Oz lads and in the end a group of 4 yanks too. It was a really good night and it was nice to get drunk. I also got this Indian lad involved because he was out on his own and the last I remember of him was him falling flat on his face outside of the bar (I don't think he is used to vodka). I managed to palm him off onto some other Indian lads and they said they would get him home!
He was a good lad though and his script that he had written and was hoping to get made into a film was brilliant - as in the sexual content offended the yank girls.

So early morning in the station, still a little intoxicated, in a long and hot queue for a ticket. Obviously being English I appreciate an orderly queue so when 2 Indian chaps tried to push in (after already being told to queue by someone else) I lost it. It isn't often I lose my patience but I was just not in the mood so I told them to 'do one' and get to the back of the queue. We had a verbal altercation which I won and people in the queue congratulated me (which was funny) - it left me thinking that perhaps I am in need of some mediation etc.
I sat with a nice bloke on my way to Pune who told me all about the company he works for - providing steel for buildings and took me through a 143 page presentation on his laptop!! After he had finished I slept all the way to Pune as it was that riveting.

Now onto the Osho centre. Having read about the place before I came, I was aware that I would not be allowed to wear my civilian clothes once admitted. Maroon robes are required for the daytime and white for the evening. Still, upon my arrival it was odd seeing all of these people wondering around, dressed exactly the same.
I checked in, which included an on the spot HIV test (high hopes!) and prepared for the 6:30pm meditation session. This is where it got interesting. (but not in the way you are thinking)

Picture the scene - it is dark, I along with about 200 other people are milling around outside the auditorium dressed in white robes and the lighting is provided by flames. I was starting to think that I had gotten myself into some sort of pagan cult. I was looking around nervously for the sacrificial Lamb. (no pun intended)
At 6:30pm sharp, we are allowed to enter the auditorium which is under a big pyramid shaped roof, quite masonic, which also adds to my rising nervousness.
As I enter it is deathly quiet and I sit down on the cold marble floor along with everyone else. After about 10mins still nothing except silence.
Then some people walk to this room at the front that I hadn't really noticed, take their seats behind the instruments and start belting out this little funky little jazz number.
A woman at the front was straight up, raising her hands to the ceiling in a prayer like fashion and then starts dancing in the most random fashion. As I look around, people slowly start to rise and before I know it most of the hall is up, dancing in what can only be described as a loonatic manner.
Just about everyone had their eyes closed and were off somewhere that I clearly was not. I am not joking, I burst out laughing, it was brilliant. One old bloke in front of me was just jumping up and down on the spot, I mean, that was all he was doing and it wasn't even in time to the music. I really wish I could've filmed it to show you all, it was priceless. There were at least 20 David Brent's going on.

So I know you are all wondering if I got involved? Of course I did!! It took me about 15 mins to get my head around what I was seeing but then I got up and let my inhibitions go. The only difference between me and everyone else is that I did not have my eyes closed (I was not going to miss this) and I was the only one laughing. One of the best bits was every 5 mins or so, the music stopped and everyone had to raise their hands and shout 'Osho' in unison. Ha ha, it was so so funny.
The funky band ended their session after about 30mins - and it was the same song all of that time. It is still in my head now!

After that, a big screen was lowered and Osho himself appeared on the screen. Now I do not know much about him except that he is a seriously intelligent, well read bloke and was a famous guru back in the day. So, he begins his pre-recorded (as he is now dead) teachings for that evening. I have to admit, I struggled to understand what he was on about, I couldn't see how him blowing his own trumpet (not literally because that would have been entertainment) for 1 hour benefited my thinking and well-being. I also have an issue with someone calling themselves master (unless it is Yoda) and talking about everyone who loves and is devoted to him. However, the audience were lapping it up.
After Osho had had his say, the screen went blank and his voice came over the speaker system and he told a funny story, which wasn't bad to be fair, and everyone went into laughter overdrive. I think this was some sort of laughter meditation. Then all of a sudden a drum was hit and everyone started shouting the most vile things and talking in the giberish - yes I was getting a little nervous again.

Unbeknown to me, because I arrived late in the day and had missed the orientation session so I wasn't aware of all the stuff that would be going on.

After about 5 mins of shouting the drum was hit again and silence resumed. At this point we all had to lay back and begin the 'meditation' part. We were told reach deep within, blah blah blah and hold onto that happy part etc.
Now as I said, I like to think of myself as being completely open minded and willing to give anything a go (except homosexuality) but I quickly realised that this is not me. I am quite happy and at peace with myself and I know where I am going and what I want from my life, and even if I am not 100% there I know what I need to do to reach my happy place and mediation is not the way for me. It seemed to me that the people around me were still looking for something. Maybe I am completely wrong and they are all sorted, but what happens when they leave this little bubble they live in and return to the real world? (A lot of the people were on 3-6 mth residential courses).
Then it was over. We all filtered out, and lots of people were embracing and holding each other.
I on the other hand got a move on as I had read that there was a disco starting in 30 mins!
The disco was good. It was more of the same of what I had seen in the hall and everyone got involved, many without drinking and they were all happy. Perhaps there is something to be said for it all, but the next day I got up and left. It just isn't for me, but at least I have tried it now.

On reflection, I am not totally opposed to what I have seen, after all I am a great believer in the power of the mind and its ability to overcome any issue and even cure physical illness, but I think it is the way that it was delivered that got to me. I have a major problem with authority, nobody controls me, I am free to make my own choices, there is no fate. You all know that I am an atheist and sincerely believe that I am just an organism that has evolved and under the laws of sheer probability is very lucky to be alive. I will continue to live as I have always tried to and make full use of the finite number of years that I have been given to have as much fun as possible. I also will never be calling anybody my 'master'.

Now reading this back it sounds like I have lost the plot - don't worry mum, I am fine honest. This is what happens when I have too much time on my hands, too much thinking = me getting philiosophical.
And anyway, this is my blog, my forum to air my views, opinions and experiences.

To prove that I am ok, I checked out of the centre, checked into another hotel and watched Arsenal vs Newcastle followed by Liverpool vs Chelsea with a few beers. It was ace.

Bring on Goa and my own brand of meditation - a party.

Friday, 5 November 2010

Happy Diwali

Today is Diwali and I am more than aware that it is today due to the constant noise of bangers and fireworks.
I am currently in Mumbai, which is hot, muggy, busy but I like it for some reason. I think what has swayed me is that there is a nightlife (a rarity so far in my Indian travels), good beer, lots of travellers, beef (which I have missed a lot) and western music (which I have really really missed).

But back to my journey here which was a mission.
I had my final safari at Banhavgarh and did not see a tiger unfortunately. It was still really good though as we went high up into the hills whilst the early morning mist was still around which added to the mystery of it all. Of the wildlife that I did see I saw jackals, vultures, eagles, lots of deer and spiders as big as my hand.
So I had to settle for a sighting of just one tiger which in a way was nice. It highlights how rare they actually are (yes I am an eco-warrior) and I would prefer that they stay hidden and away than be out there in the open to be hunted.
It appears that I was quite fortunate anyway, I spoke to one group who had been on 5 safaris and not seen 1 tiger and another group who had been on 3 with no sightings. Guess I was really lucky to see 1 tiger in my first 10mins!
After hanging out for the rest of day on Bandhavgarh I got up bright and early to catch a bus to the nearest town to begin my long journey to Mumbai.
I got the once a day train from Umaria to Katni and was there by 1pm, my train to Mumbai did not leave until 19:15pm. At 11:30pm I was still waiting for my train to Mumbai!
I usually do not mind the constant attention from Indian people but after 10 hours at the station I was losing my patience with the constant staring, photos and attempts to talk to me.
The only interesting things to happen during that 10 hour stretch was to see a man in chains brought onto the platform by 2 policemen with big rifles. The criminal said hello to me and before I realised what I had done I smiled and said hello in Hindi. The policemen must've thought 'why is he speaking to this man'. He could've been a murderer or a rapist and there I am greeting him like a friend!
I also saw an Indian albino which was cool.
Another thing that struck me at Katni train station is the low level of productivity of Indian workers. For example, a post needed painting at the station and it took 4 men to complete the job - 1 to paint, 1 to hold the step ladder (not sure why), 1 to hold a cloth and 1 to watch. In England, 1 person would have complete that job.
I have noticed all around India that vast numbers of people are employed to do jobs that would need only a fraction of the work force to complete in Europe. Still, at least they are working and not sitting around doing nothing, watching Jeremy Kyle, like a lot of people in the UK. (Yes, I know I am unemployed!!!)

I finally got to Mumbai at 6pm yesterday evening, a full 33 hours after leaving Bandhavgarh.
I am staying at the Salvation Army hostel, my first dorm experience and it isn't too bad. Do not get me wrong, there is no luxury but it is very cheap and easy to meet people ad my breaky is included in the price.
I had been there only 10 minutes before I went out for dinner and drinks with 3 Brit girls who took me to a really good pub with quality music. It was so nice to hear some Radiohead, The Verve and Oasis as well as some old classics from a source other than my i-pod.

This morning I got up early and headed to the railway station to sort out some of my travel plans. I have decided to alter my original itinerary and spend more time in the south (Goa and Kerala) and sack off my trips to Chennai and Calcutta. I am fed up of cities and am now craving beaches and the ocean before I hit the mountains.
After sorting out my travel I went to lunch at a restaurant that was hit during the Mumbai attacks in 2008. There is still a massive bullet hole in the wall which is a little eerie.
My original plan was to go over to Elephanta Island today and explore the caves there but Barrack Obama arrives in town tomorrow - staying at the hotel opposite the Salvation Army - so everything has been disrupted. It is quite annoying that a stupid American is spoiling my trip.
However, I have just met 2 Oz lads (sitting next to me now) and 2 German lads in my dorm and after I finish this post we are heading down to the bay to watch the Diwali fireworks show at sunset and get drunk. I can't wait! I haven't been properly p*ssed yet so it is all good.

Finally I have to say that I am having an amazing time but I cannot tell you all how gutted I was to have missed probably Spurs' finest performance in many years. I am really missing footy and I really wish I was the The Lane for that game, but I guess I cannot have it all - which for those of you that know me well, really annoys me.
Still, if we make it to the Champions League final (unlikely but you never know) then you will all see me a lot sooner than you thought because I will come home for it - one condition of me selling my season ticket to Mr Comrey.

Speak to you all from Goa.

Monday, 1 November 2010

I spy with my little eye something beginning with T

This post comes to you from deep within the jungle of the Bandhavgarh National Park. I am feeling very Bear Grylls / Steve Backshall but in reality I am probably giving off an air of Ray Mears / David Bellamy.

But before we talk tiger - singular, I had better update you all on the past few days.
In my last post I said I was going to impose myself upon some travellers for my last night in Udaipur and I did just that. I went back to the same spot to watch the sunset and got talking to 2 Oz women, Lara and Moss from Sydney who were in India on a business venture. They were staying at the City Palace Hotel (an actual palace) which was slightly nicer than the Khumba Palace (not an actual palace) where I was. So we hung out for the evening there and drank expensive drinks (my wallet took a hit by Indian standards). They were also telling me about a newlywed couple who were at the hotel - an Irishman and a German woman and that David (the groom) had come down to the pool in his full suit and tie at 11am that morning. When asked what he was doing he said it was for the photos they were taking! It was about 35 degrees that day.
Anyway, about 10 mins later David (sporting a white tux and was remarkably like Brin from Gavin & Stacey in personality) and his bride turn up and join us. I have to say, he was brilliant, very funny. We all ended up back at their suite that overlooked the lake and carried on with the drinking. David kept doing Sean Connery impressions for some reason and before long it became apparent that his bride was a massive film buff and I think he was getting into character for some fun and games later because she kept replying in an evil German accent!!
The next day was spent hanging around waiting to leave for Agra and I wasted the time by hanging out with Lara and Moss at their swimming pool.
A good thing about meeting these 2 is that I now have a couple of more people to hang out with in Sydney and Lara's brother plays for a footy team there too, so hopefully I will be able to get a few matches in, as I am desperate to kick a ball already.

Onto Agra and more sightseeing. My hotel was located about a 5 min walk from the Taj Mahal gate and the roof top restaurant had a great view.
I arrived on Friday, the only day of the week that the Taj is closed so went on a tour of the other sights. First was Agra Fort. I can't tell you much about it, I am truly fed up with all of this fort, palace and temple sightseeing business (as I said in my last post) so I walked around in a bit of a daze not paying any attention.
Next was the baby Taj, which was quite impressive and I got to see some eagles close up which was quite exciting for me.
Finally I went to a spot where you can see the sunset over the Taj. It would've been great if it wasn't cloudy!
On the way back, my rickshaw driver picked up a couple of stranded Kiwi girls, so I ended up having dinner with them.
I got up at 5am the next day to see the Taj at sunrise and I am glad that I did. The Taj is one monument that I would never get sick of visiting. I literally stared at it from every angle possible for about 3 hours. It is hard to explain what it is about it, but in all the pictures you have seen, nothing compares to actually seeing it there in front of you and I would say to everybody to try to go and see it before you die.
I also ran into Dave, an Oz bloke I met the week before in Jaipur, as you do.

Agra was a short and sweet visit, literally 18hrs. My taxi ride to the train station out of there was interesting. In the passenger seat was the first openly gay Indian man that I have met. Of course, he took an instant shine to me and told all about how he hasn't had a boyfriend for 3 years and is really in need of one. I was then told how sexy I was and had beautiful eyes and he kept winking at me. The worst / best bit was when he sang to me in a very high voice and I had to tell in him to stop it. As I got out of the cab he asked me to cancel my trip and stay with him for a few days - I had told him that I was only into women about 5 times already but that I could hook him up with someone in Soho if he wanted. Anyway, I was out of there a quick as.

We are now back to the present in Bandhavgarh.
I arrived at the station at 5am, with no transport, no hotel and no safari's booked. I managed to blag a lift from one of the resort drivers to the park which is 30km away for a paltry 300 rupees - about $4 (I am using dollar for pound sign as I can't find it on the keyboard). I asked him about rooms at his place and they were going for $215 per night! He dropped me off in the village and I found a room for $5.70 per night. Admittedly it isn't the Hilton and I am sharing with a few insects but it will do me.
As for safari costs, it is about $60 for a 4 hour safari, no matter how many people you have in a Jeep. So my mission yesterday was to find people to share with, which is what I did. I met Ravi and Adele in the afternoon and agreed to share with them. As I am finding is usual with these things we then had dinner and drinks and played some cards at their hotel, which is a lot better than mine and cheaper too. I am sending this post from their hotel which I have just moved into! A sweet $5 per night and full of travellers too. Over dinner we met a couple of Germans and they agreed to share the safari too. So my safari this morning cost me $12.
The reason I am telling you all of this is that I got a few quotes when I was back in England to stay at this park and the cheapest I got was $600 incl 3 safaris.
So far, it has cost me $27 for 3 nights accommodation and 1 safari. Organise it yourselves people!

One bad thing about where I am staying is that there is no ATM. This meant catching a bus back to the train station which I had just come from. My first Indian bus journey and it broke down half way there.
I eventaully got back to Umaria and went in search of the ATM. It was evident that people on safari do not visit Umaria. As I walked around, some children ran and hid from the evil white man, whilst other people peered through their garden gates and came out to watch me walk past. If ever I was self-conscious, India has cured me of it.
I could'nt find the ATM so some random bloke took me there on the back of his motorbike - of course without a helmet.
Back at the park I was accosted by a group of about 10 Indian lads to sit with them and they asked me all about sex and women etc in the UK. They were a little shocked about how it is at home. For some reason I had to then arm wrestle 3 of them. I won the first 2 but then they brought out Hans who hadn't smiled since I had been there and was pretty big. I lasted for a while but then gave in - I am not sure how he would've taken losing.
I blame the loss of the fact that I had already had 2 contests and didn't have a cap to turn around like Sly Stallone in Over the Top.

So, the safari, the reason that I am here; which I can summarise it it in 2 lines:
Started at 6am, bloody cold, saw a tiger in the wild in our first 10mins which is one of my dreams fulfilled and then didn't see anymore!
We did miss 2 extremely close up tiger sightings, by close I mean crossing the road in front of the Jeep by only a couple of minutes each time, but it is all about luck. I am going again tomorrow so need to find some more people to share, but if not I will go on my own, so fingers crossed.

Only last week, a tiger was walking through the village I am in and killed a cow - I want some of that action.

That's it for now, oh except that I hate mosquitoes! They are eating me alive in the jungle and do not  care that I have repellent on. I have resorted to wearing trousers and long sleeved top even though it is hot. I got one of the little ******** yesterday and was rewarded with a covering in my own blood.

Next post will me from Mumbai (Bombay), Slumdog Millionaire stylee.

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Call me Bond.....

Before I fill you in on my goings on in Udaipur I have decided to revise my '3 things I hate about India', I am also going to downgrade it to dislike as hate is a strong word.
At number 2 I stated that the personal hygiene was bad. Well thinking about it I know a lot of people in England that stink and have experienced bad hygiene the world over, so I am removing it out of fairness and that it is a worldwide issue. Instead:
2) Litter - there are no bins anywhere. People just throw their rubbish down wherever they are stood. The streets are full and the rivers are full. I passed a river today and it was full of floating dead fish - and of course I took a photo too.
Someone I was talking with remarked that if you hit a pause button now and tried to clean up India of its litter how long would it take? I reckon we are talking years! So that is my new number 2.

Anyway, with that done, Udiapur.
WOW! What a place. After the Jaipur, which I am renaming Sh*tsville, this is a breath of fresh air.
India has a great ability to make me love it at one minute and really dislike it at the next. Jaipur was busy, dirty, poor and the rickshaw drivers were rude, didn't take no for an answer and drove me to distraction - to be honest I was waiting for Nepal to come along.
And then I arrived in Udaipur; just pipping Shimla to my favourite spot in India (so far). Everyone is polite, the rickshaw drivers understand that saying no once is enough and although there are still a few beggars, it just seems much more civilised.
Udiapur is set around Lake Pichola, on which sit 2 floating hotels, the Lake Palace and Jag Mandir. If anyone is getting married soon and needs a honeymoon destination then go to Jag Mandir. I went on a boat trip around the lake and they drop you off at the hotel for a look around - it is fantastic. You have to see it to believe it especially when it is lit up at night Udiapur is also where they shot 'Octopussy' and her lair was based at this hotel.

I am staying at the Khumba Palace hotel. Really nice place with a cool garden in which I can read my book along with the pet tortoise who just meanders around. He seems to have a lot of character for a tortoise and is quite a fast mover which surprised me. The garden also backs on to the City Palace and you can just see the turrets above the wall, so I am right in the thick of it.

My first day was taken up by visiting the Jagdish Temple (huge and as usual fantastic masonary and workmanship), the City Palace (the biggest in India and built with corridors like a maze to confuse any attackers) along with the lake boat trip.
I have to say that I am getting a little sick of visiting Forts, Palaces and Temples. Although they are all great in their own right, I need to look at something different ie. Tigers (in about 1 week), the beaches of Goa and Kerala (in about 2/3 wks) and the mountains (end of Nov).
In the evening I decided to treat myself. Within the grounds of the City Palace is the Sunset Terrace restuarant. It looks out over the lake and the surrounding hills/mountains. The sunset was pretty spectacular and the setting just added to it. The only bad thing was that my 2 drinks cost me approximately 2 nights accomodation! London drink prices vs Indian hotel prices.
After that I went along to one of the many restaurants showing a nightly re-run of 'Octopussy'. It was fun to watch the film with the setting all around you. What was more amusing was that when the location changed to Berlin, Bond was told to go to the road in East Berlin which I stayed on only in September.

Today has been a long walking day. I went to Bharatiya Lok Kala, a puppet and mask museum. I only went there on a recommendation of Sue who I met on the Camel safari, who said it was so bad it was worth seeing. To be fair, she was right, it was poo. The masks were of a standard that a child in nursery puts together with papier-mache and the puppet show was, I dont know how to put it, really cr*p.
There were a couple of schools there so the whole audience seemed more interested in the 'white-skin' (as we sometimes known) than the puppets. A lot of photos and handshakes later, I escaped. One big man even hugged me and kissed me on the cheek to the amusement of everyone, myself included. They say that I have hair like the cricketer Sachin Tendulkar, who is a living god here, and that must be why they like me. India is a funny place.
Next was Sahelion-ki-Bari, a garden constructed for the ladies of the royal household. I spent about an hour or so just chilling in the sun and getting some really good nature photos. I will put them up on a facebook when I get a chance and you can all be the judge as to whether I could make a career out of them! Afterall, this is the time to consider all possible career opportunities.

I then spent the afternoon relaxing by the water, reading my book and had the best Orange milkshake.

Not sure about my plans for this evening. I think I may try and impose myself on some unsuspecting travellers and have a beer or two. I got to practice my (shabby) conversational French earlier with a family who were on my train from Jaipuir and they seemed to get the gist of what I was on about, so bring on any nationality tonight!

I leave the lovely Udaipur tomorrow afternoon (boo-hoo) and head to Agra and the Taj Mahal. By all accounts Agra is horrible and touristy but the sight of the Taj is well worth it. I will let you know.

Sunday, 24 October 2010

What is the worst thing you have ever seen?

This post comes from Jaipur - which in my opinion is the worst city I have yet to spend time in, even worse than Delhi and that is saying something!
I got here on Saturday morning after spending a night on the train in a bed next to the loudest snorer ever. There were multiple times that I considered smothering him or myself for that fact to end the misery. I was hoping to get some sort of revenge by purposely waking him up when I got off at my stop at 5am, but unfortunately he woke me up by getting up at 4am to be ready for the same stop. Aaaggghhhh.

Anyway, Jaipur, the Pink City. Don't get me wrong there is a lot to see in terms of sights, but the whole place is busy, dirty, seriously poor and the people are constantly trying to get something out of you.
My first day I took the 3km walk into town (to the dismay of every rikshaw driver I encontered) and during this walk I saw the worst sight. A amn was shuffling down the side of the road on his bum just ahead of me with his legs stretched out in front. As I walked past him I looked over his shoulder as I couldn't figure out why he was moving the way his was. In the approximate 2 seconds that I looked I mananged to register every grim detail. From about 1 inch below his toes to his ankle of his left foot was an open sore. When I say sore I mean the whole of the top of his foot wasn't there. Instead I could see the actual skeleton of his foot amongst the many flies that were feasting on him. Before I knew it I shouted out 'Holy sh*t' and then just put my head down and got moving. It made me feel pretty rough for a good few minutes and I can still see it now. Yuk.

With that in mind that brings me to my worst 3 things about India:

3) Spitting - disgusting habit and everyone does it, men and women. All you can hear are people sniffing and then getting ready to gob it out.

2) Personal hygeine - I do not need to elaborate

1) Animal welfare - I have never seen so many animals that clearly should be put out of there misery. I have seen cows with horns missing and big sores, crippled dogs dragging themselves around looking for food, it is horrible. The worst story I was told which is heartbreaking but at the same time really comical (and I feel so bad for laughing but the image of it is too much for me not to) was about this Oz lad who saw a blind dog. He said it was inching along the path and everytime it heard a car sound its horn (which is seriously about every 2 seconds) the dog was stand totally still to make sure it wasn't him/her in the way. It would then start shuffling again until the next horn!!
Seriously, it is all so wrong.

So, on to more cheery things. My first day was spent visiting the City Palace, Hawa Mahal, which was the place where all of the royal ladies would hang out as they need to be kept away from the view of men, and Jantar Mantar, which was an observatory built in the 1600's. Jantar Mantar was a really cool place and it is amazing that they were able to know so much about the skies and build such advanced tools at that time. One monument there was a massive sundial, 65 feet tall and the largest in the world and it was able to tell the time to an accuracy of within 2 seconds.
In the evening I went to a restaurant and was placed on a table with Jason and Lindsay (married from the US and on a year long honeymoon around India including some volunteer work) and later by Ben (from London and who strangely enough I actually met earlier in the day when we were both looking for directions). These people would become my hombres for the next day.
There were a few sights out of town that we all hadn't seen so we decided to share the cost and go together.
So the next day, after much negotiating with the rikshaw drivers, we went off to visit the Amber Fort, Jaghar Fort, Royal Gate and the Monkey Palace. All of it was quite impressive but it was a long day.
At Amber Fort you could choose to walk up the hill or take a ride up on elephant back. The thing is you all share the same path which was an experiecne walking next to something so huge amd one wrong move and I would be crushed.

To end the day myself and Ben went to the cinema. The Rough Guide (my bible out here) says that if you go to the cinema once in India, then the place we went to last night is where you should go.
The cinema itself was really impressive, the foyer was huge and very grand and the actual cinema itself holds approx 1,200 people. more like a theatre.
The actual film was really good. It was all in Hindi, with the odd line in English. One real example was "what the bloody hell are you doing?" ha ha.
The film was about police corruption in this small town and 2 cops from out of town were brought in to investigate a murder. No lie, at points it was like watching scenes from James Bond or the Bourne Supremacy - I really enjoyed it even though I couldn't understand it. Still the story was pretty easy to follow.
The Indian's all get involved as well, so they applaud, whistle, and shout out 'wwwoooooo' when a romantic scene happens. Funny.
The night finished by meeting up with Jason and Lindsay for dinner and drinks.

Fortunately I am leaving Jaipur tonight and heading to Udaipur with is supposed to be lovely. They also shot part of Octopussy there at the palace in the middle of the lake so looking forward to seeing that.

Friday, 22 October 2010

I tamed the camel and its toe

Hello all

So it has been a few days since my last post and I can happily report that I am settling very well into my new life as a hobo.
So what has been going on?
My last day in Jodhpur wasn't very evenful. I took a rikshaw to the zoo, which was closed, so I walked back into town in the midday heat which was a killer. I had a very cheap lunch in a non-tourist area and paid for it later and I am sure you know what I mean. Incidentally, since my first night in India that is the only time I have been ill, not sure what all of the fuss is about really.
When I got back to my hotel to check out I got talking to this German lad who said that the night before it had all kicked off at the hotel and it was a good job that I was leaving. Yogi's (of Yogi's Guesthouse) brother had turned up and robbed the takings from the restaurant till claiming it was his right because they were family and so there was a big fight. As a result they were closing the hotel for the next few days to sort it out and o I would've had to find somewhere else to stay anyway.

So I got the train from Jodhpur to Jaisalmer. Not much to report there apart from random chat at the train station with various Indians, a coach where the air-con was rubbish and I sweated alot and then waking up in my own sweat in an empty carriage because I woke up 20mins after the train has arrived.

I think Jaisalmer has been my favourite place yet. The hotel I stayed at was within the walls of the sandstone fort, overlooking the Jain temples and the staff were really cool and friendly. The fort itself is the only living fort still in India. It isn't that big but it has a lot of character and as usual lots of cows. Oh, yesterday I was looking up at the architecture etc and walked right through a fresh cow-pat, in my flips-flops!!

My first day in Jaisalmer was busy. I spent the morning watching the sun rise over the desert and then took a look around the Jain temples; amazing architecture and masonary but best of all was a sign stating that if a woman was on her period she would not be able to enter to maintain the sanctity of the place. Ha ha. Not sure how they check this though!?!

The afternoon continuing into the next morning was taken up with a camel safari, which is one of the main attractions for tourists coming to Jaisalmer. I have to say that it was excellent.
My group was made up of Mika, a japenese girl who actually met on Jodhpur the day before, Sue and Kim from Exeter, who happen to live about few miles away from my auntie, and Julian from Oxfordshire who openly admitted that since travelling in the 1990's he always uses his left hand to wipe his bum (at home too) and squats over the toilet at home Indian stylee as well - yes he was a bit wierd but I liked him. It was a good group.
We were taken about 60kms into the desert by jeep and then we travelled a further 2hrs by camel to the sand dunes. According to Sue's thermometer it was 45 degrees in the sun. I am not sure it was that hot but my Arab style head wear shielded me from the rays - great purchase and you can see how ridiculous I look on facebook.
It was my first experience of riding an animal since a donkey on Blackpool or Skegness beach when I was young (we dont talk about the other 'riding' incident in Cardiff a few years ago) and I really enjoyed it. Unfortunately, everyone seemed to handle the camels really well and no-one fell off. Booooo!
We got to the sand dunes about an hour before sunset and then sat there watching the sun go down with chai (which I still find too sickly) and nibbles. I have to say that at that moment it sort of hit me that that is my life now and not a holiday - quite a liberating experience.
Dinner was cooked over a camp fire followed by singing from our hosts. We then slept under the night sky on just a duvet. By the way, I can believe how much light a full moon gives off - which is not great for viewing stars.
However, I woke about 4am and again at 5:30am to find that the moon had done one and the sight that greeted me was a sky filled with hundreds of stars. I have never seen anything like it. It was like a band of light stretching across the sky and you could so easily pick out the constallations - that was a sight that I will not forget for a very long time.
The next morning we had breakfast and then rode the camels back to the jeep. It was actually a little painful this time and I could feel it down the insides of my groins and legs. They say that women do not suffer this problem, I will let you draw your own conculsions as to why this is!

I am off to Jaipuir (the pink city) today. Train leaves at 4:30pm and arrives at 4am - nice. Still, as I have said before, the sleeper trains are cool and I have my book, so it is all good. Afterall, it is not like I have anythuing else to do is it?