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!

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