Friday, 27 February 2009

Ten minutes left before the internet cafe closes!

Eekk!

I think I';ve written everything about Nepal that is important, but I still have got up to date with the details of India.

I still haven't written about the Taj Mahal and that was ages ago. Never fear, I'll get to it eventually! Honest!

Also coming soon will be:

Varanasi

The train journey that was supposed to take 24 hours but actually took 32 hours (including a night sleeping on a train station floor).

Just waiting for the train to Jaisalmer now where we will spend three nights.

I haven't had a shower/changed my clothes in days and I really smell.

Right that's it, will update next as soon as I can.

Love to everyone reading. x

My thoughts on Nepal

I didn't love Nepal as much as I expected too.

Everyone had told me that after India it would be a breath of fresh air, hassle-free, beautiful.

The Landscape of Nepal was quite simply beautiful. Absoultely out of this world. I loved Nepal for it's beauty.

Kathmandu was great for shopping. Hardly any hassle or pushiness. Very relaxed and easy.

In the city it wasn't clean. Like in India, rubbish was everywhere. Kathmandu felt suffocating. Everywhere there were mopeds and bikes blaring their horns and bells.

I was quite excited about visting Durbar Square. In the 60s and 70s when the Beatles were there it would have been a very different place. The pollution of the bikes and cars, which drive crazily around the temples, was starting to eat away at the wooden temples. Even sitting on the Hippy Temple you could not escape the blaring of horns. The overloaded power cables also spoiled the view somewhat.

The most interesting thing in Nepal was the Kumari, the living goddess. This is a little girl who lives as a goddess in one of the temples on Durbar Square. When the living goddess starts her periods the search begins for a new living goddess. A living goddess must be 3 or 4 when chosen and has to go through 35 categories to be the chosen one. Some things are a matter of fate - must be born in the right horoscope, must have pretty eyes, clear sking, neat teeth. The final test to become a living goddess involves the 3/4 year old staying for as long as possible in the pitch black of a temple where she is scared by men who chant and shout while buffalos are sacrificed around her. The little girl who lasts the longest without being scared is declared the Kumari. She lives her life in the temple until she starts her period when she is then returned back to the village she came from. It's a fascinating custom, but incredibly strange. The little girl comes to a window to see here public in the afternoons. We were lucky enough to catch a glimpse of her. She was very bolshy-looking for a four year old. But then again you have to be to i suppose to pass the criteria. Very interesting.

I think the main thing about Nepal is that it isn't such an interesting place as India. Everywhere in India there is something to look at or something to see. In Nepal there is less fascinating stuff to keep you occupied.

Women are more free in Nepal, or appear to be at any rate, as they work in the shops and talk to tourists in the street. Women in India are far more hidden away.

I'm glad I've been to Nepal. But mainly for the beauty of the place. It doesn't have as many curiousites as India.

Sorry these thoughts are a bit scatty, I'm just writing my htought processes against a time limit! I might write more on Nepal in time.

Bus Adventures in Nepal

We took three buses in Nepal:

1. Baihawara (Nepal/India border) - Kathmandu

2. Kathmandu - Pokhara

3. Pokhara - Baihawara (Nepal/India border)

Bus Number 1 was our first bus. We arrived in Nepal late afternoon, and we decided to get a night bus to Kathmandu as the border town wasn't an appealing stopover for the evening.

This bus was fun.

You know how in the UK coaches have five seats in the back row (the seats that everyone dashes for on a school trip), well this coach had six seats in the back row (it was no wider than a coach in the UK).

The two middle seats of the back row were ours. We were the cool kids.

No seatbelts.

If the coach had braked quickly we would have been straight down the aisle - except we woudln't because there were a few people sat on stools in the aisle who would have broken our fall.

We didn't really sleep much. The road was bumpy and we were constantly jumping out. The couple next to me kept pushing and shoving as we rocked in their direction. She tripped over my bag as she got off at one point so that is her karma. She stole my pillow at one point as well. She wasn't very nice. You'd expect a little understanding given the circumstances.

This bus was also a local government bus. We were the only tourists on it.

Once we arrived in Kathmandu we read in the Lonely Planet that the worst thing to do in Nepal was to ride a local government bus at night to Kathmandu.

On our second bus trip we realised why.

Not long into our journey we saw a burnt out bus, and another and another. Bus crashes in the Himalayas were pretty common it seemed.

Needless to say, we were thankful to be alive. So grateful.

The other two journeys were by day.

The ride Pokhara was spectacular.

We think we might have seen Everest. Well, we didn't really, but this one mountain was bigger than the rest, and had snow on top, and was Everest-shaped. It could've been the world's tallest mountain, but it probably wasn't. Shame.

The bus journey back to India was pretty uneventful. Long. But uneventful.

I suppose the moral of the story is we survived. We were lucky to survive, but we made it.

Travelling in Nepal is pretty tricky; the planes are notorious for crashing into mountainsides; there are no trains because of the mountains; and bus crash a lot. So yeah, travelling in Nepal isn't easy. I think I'd quite like a t-shirt that says "I survived a night bus in Nepal".

The toilet with most beautiful view in the world. Fact!

Sunday 22nd February was the day we chose to climb Sarangkot.

Sarangkot towers over Pokhara's Phewa Tal at a height of 1592m. We had heard from other travellers that the view from the other side of Sarangkot hill was one not to be missed.

In our attempt to avoid the midday sun we got up early and were out of our hotel by 6am. We jumped in a taxi to the start point for the walk up the hill.

This route was far more easy to follow than the one to the Peace Pagoda. This was mainly because a road runs most of the way. Lazy people choose to take taxis up there and walk the final kilometer.

We were going to go all the way on foot.

Everywhere we have been so far in India and Nepal we have had a constant barrage of people wanting to be our guide. In fairness it's a few fast rupees so what have they got to lose by showing a couple of tourists around for an hour or so.

But about twenty minutes into this walk up the mountain side we came across a guide who was very different.

Her english was extremely poor, but she was loyal to us, patient and didn't want any pay.

Our guide was a dog.

At first we thought the dog was following us, then after half hour or so we realised that we were following the dog.

Surely she wouldn't be walking all the way with us? Surely not?

After an hour or so with the dog in tow we decided to name her. Here is the thought process in which her name came about:

"She looks a bit like a Lassie dog..." (me with my great knowledge of dog species.) "Aww a lassi is also a popular drink in India and Nepal" (geddit Lassie/Lassi?) "She's yellow in colour, let's call her Banana Lassi."

And that was it, the dog was named. Yes, I know it's a bizarre thought process, but it worked, and the name stuck.

We walked and walked and as it became more touristy at the top people asked if the dog was ours. We laughed and simply pointed to her as our guide.

Just short of the top Banana Lassi abandoned us. She found another couple going down and decided to join them.

We felt rejected that our guide had left us, but it meant we didn't have to worry about her as we sat at the top and enjoyed the views.

The view was incredible. We'd seen a fair few snow topped mountains on the journey from Kathmandu to Pokhara, but here we had three in front of us. It was just staggering.

Tkaing photos was absolutely futile, it was a view just to be enjoyed. There were three peaks Machhapuhre, Annanpura II and another but I can't remember it's name. They were proper Himalaya Mountains, and they were right in front of me.

I have to say it was probably the most impressive landscape I have ever looked upon.

The Himalayas. Wow.

So we chilled out at the top for a couple of hours. Just chatting, like you do. There was no way we would be heading straight back down. This was just too beautiful to rush.

So naturally when you've drunk 2 litres of water on a two hour walk, your bladder becomes full. Mine became full at the top. It was quite an exposed hill with an army look out point close by. Where on earth was I going to have a wee.

I managed to find a little bush to hide behind. This was quite simply the toilet with the best view in the world. I contemplated taking a rubbish picture while I had a wee, just to savour the moment.

It was such a good toilet spot that I just had to go for another wee before heading back down.

Quite simply beautiful. If ever you get the chance to have a wee in front of the Himalayas, do it! Even if you do get caught out by an army dude (I didn't) it will still be the best wee of your life.

Road Block Number 1

This tale begins one lazy Saturday afternoon in the town of Pokhara, Nepal.

We had spent the morning watching the annual paragliding competition by the lake side.

After a couple of hours on the internet we decided that we would go for a walk to Devi's Falls about 2km away from the Lake.

So off we went... The first part of the journey was the same as the journey to the Peace Pagoda and we secretly hoped that this wouldn't be another four hour expedition again!

The journey was fairly easy, a path took us straight across the paddy fields and through some small villages.

All the kids we passed sang the same tune to us: "One Rupee, One Chocolate, One Pen".

Sorry kids, but we don't have any! We carried on walking to the falls.

The falls were remarkably unimpressive. A massive let down if I'm being honest. In fact, I would go so far as to say that if you are ever in Pokhara don't bother with the waterfall!

So the walk back to the lake is where this post gets interesting...

We headed back the way we came as the sun was setting and we didn't want to have to find our way in the dark.

We walked past the same people doing the same things as they were when we first passed them. The same kids shouted the same call.

Everything was the same, until... we came across seven kids, linked arm in arm blocking the path ahead.

We could see them coming.

"Are they blocking our road Emma?" I said.

"Hmmmm?!?" responded Emma with curiosity.

Then came the fun part.

It was like something off the Gauntlet on Gladiators trying to get past them.

Emma and I split up for the best chance of making it through.

The barricade of children screaming for sweets split in two.

Dodge this way, dodge that way a final run and I was through.

Emma made it through shortly after.

But although we were through the barricaded they still shouted after us for sweets.

We walked off giggling away that this gang of kids had just dared to form a chain across our path, all in the aid of sweeties. Bless them.

What does one do when one has time to kill waiting for a train?

One updates, one's blog of course.

Right I've got some time to kill, quite a bit of time in fact, so here it goes, hopefully, hopefully, hopefully this will bring everything bang up to date.

Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Things to look forward to...

The next time I get online there will be the following gems to look forward to:

The toilet with the most beautiful view in the world. (Nepal)

Roadblock Number 1. (Nepal)

Bus adventures in Nepal. (Nepal)

Varanasi, the city where life just goes on. (India)

And of course there will be other things by then to report on too.

Betcha can't wait!

My hand looks as if I have leprosy

I have been using loads of mosi repellent since I've been here, but it appears that on the overnight train from Gorukpur to Varanasi I provided a banquet for all the mosquitoes in India.

My left hand has around 25 bites on it.

My right hand has four bites.

I have four bites on my face also.

All the bites itch like hell.

I have never had bites like this before, ever. They are driving me barmy. Absolutely barmy.

Anyone have any mosi-bite miracle cures? Please tell me if you do!

Saturday, 21 February 2009

I'm happy with this blog now

The identity crisis is now over.

This blog is now on track.

I will go back and write about somethings in depth - mainly the Taj Mahal - but from now on this will not be a place for all the boring details. If you want the boring details you will have to read my diary when I come back.

To give you an idea of my diary at the minute. I am writing in the one that Ar' Laura gave me for Christmas, it probably has about 400 pages. I am half way through (I've only been away two weeks). Luckily I have another one ready in the wings waiting to take over.

Happy reading!

My nose is currently a very fetching shade of red

I like the colour red. As you can see, it is the main colour on this site.

However, my nose is very red, and, I don't like it.

My nose caught the sun last week when we were in India. We had a day of travelling in the car so I didn't bother to put any cream on. When we sat for an hour in the sun at a roadside cafe my nose frazzled.

Of course I've been keeping it protected since, but it is still very red.

I managed to pick up some factor 50 nivea sun block from 'Safeway' yesterday so from now on my nose is going to be blocked.

I hope my nose doesn't stay red for very long. It looks very silly in photos. There will have to be some serious Photoshop action when I get home.

"We came to Nepal to walk not to get a taxi"

After our six hour journey from Kathmandu we arrived at Pokhara bus station to be greeted by a hoard of hotel reps and taxi drivers.

Our response to the hotels reps was: "We have a reservation at New Future Way Guest House." We didn't at all, but we knew that it would get them off our backs. And it did.

To evade the taxi drivers came the line: "We came to Nepal to walk not to get a taxi." This line was suprisingly successful. Most people do come to Nepal to trek, so it was fine.

I say most people come to Nepal to trek. We didn't. We came to Nepal to escape the hectic world of India and to see the beautiful landscapes.

Yesterday, however, we did decide to go for a trek. A trek by ourselves with our (not so trusty) Lonely Planet.

The World Peace Pagoda was situated atop one of the many mountains that surrounds Phewa Tal, the lake in the centre of Pokhara. And it was this mountain that we decided to climb.

LP offered three routes, the quicky which involved taking a bus most of the way, the hour trek which involved taking a boat from the lake, and the scenic route through padi fields which would take about 2 hours. In the chilled out mindset of Nepal we decided to take the scenic route.

The first part of the journey which followed roads was easy, but as we crossed the dam into the wild the single path that was marked on our LP map was nowhere to be seen.

In true Duke of Edinburgh stylie I was armed with a compass. Quite possibly the most useful thing in the world.

Sticking to the compass, we headed West and up the hillside.

We trekked along padi fields, through woods, and through local villages.

Helpfully, the Peace Pagoda was not actually marked on the map, it simply went off the page with an arrow saying 500km west.

After 90 minutes we figured we might be in sight of the pagoda. But we couldn't see it anywhere.

We trudged on further keeping West. We bumped into villagers on our walk and they told us to keep going West, so West we went.

By the time we had been walking for 3 hours it was midday and we had still not reached our destination - some two hour scenic route this had turned out to be!

The heat was a real struggle and as we sat in the shade some tourists passed us. We asked them how much further it was and they reckoned it was thirty minutes.

45 minutes later we arrived. We were at the peak of the mountain and could see the spectacular lake and the impressive temple.

4 hours altogether.

Emma and I are not particularly fit, nor are we particularly unfit. We are just average I guess. But we were knackered after this trek and were happy to delve into our picnic of jam sandwiches and crisps as we enjoyed the view that had been so painful to reach.

Once again, the Lonely Planet Guide to Nepal is useless.

We are going on another trek tomorrow, but will be leaving at 5.30am so we reach the summit of Sarangkot before noon. We will be taking our trusted compass again, but might leave the Lonely Planet behind.

Electricity, and how we take it for granted

The Lonely Planet guide to Nepal is useless. It is useless for many reasons, but here is the main reason for its utter crapness:

"Electricity, when available, is 220V/50 cycles; 120V appliances from the USA will need a transformer. Sockets usually take three-round-pin plugs, sometimes the small variety, sometimes the large."

That's it. That is all it says about electricity in Nepal.

Nowhere in the 420 pages does it tell you that electricity in Nepal is very limited. Nowhere does it tell you that there is about 6 hours of electricity in Nepal each day.

To be fair, living without electricity is not that big a deal and I haven't had time to it. The hotels we have stayed in in Kathamndu and Pokhara both have generator lights that provide a dim light in the bedroom so that hasn't been too bad when we have come back in the evenings. Head torches have most certainly been a blessing.

It's kind of fun when your eating dinner and the power cuts in the restaurant. It's funny to watch the waiters fumbling around for candles and matches.

What isn't fun is when the power goes when you are using the ATM.

Definitely not fun.

At most of the ATMs that I have used in India and Nepal you simply enter your card and then remove it, then you deal with your transactions with your card safely in your purse.

This was the case when I came to withdraw money when we arrived in Pokhara. Except as soon as I selected to withdraw 2000 rupees, the power cut. Dead. No electricity. Kaput.

Bugger.

Panic.

Had the transaction gone through? Would the power come back on?

I sent Emma out of the ATM booth to find out from someone what would happen.

As I waited for the machine to come back on I was at first relieved that my card had not been gobbled, (imagine the stress of that!), but then I began to panic about the money. Had the transaction gone through?

The response from the local shopkeepers was a simple shrug.

I've just checked my balance online now, the transaction went through. Bugger.

But at the end of the day it was money for both of us so we can take a tenner each on the chin.

Lesson learnt: it is wise to withdraw small amounts from ATMs in Nepal.

I might write a letter to Lonely Planet.

This blog is having an identity crisis...

I don't like this blog right now. It isn't doing what I want it to do. It isn't offering any insight into my life as a "backpacker".

So, here is a quick rundown of the places I have visited so far:
Delhi
Jaipur
Poshkar
Agra (Taj Mahal)
Kathmandu (Nepal)
Pokhara (Nepal)

So yeah, that's where we have been so far. You can look up these places for yourself on the internet and see all the beautiful places I have been.

From now on this blog is going to be different... It's not going to be an all encompassing blow by blow account of everything that I have done and seen. It's going to be accounts of the most important bits and pieces.

Tuesday, 17 February 2009

Six days in India in the back of a Morris Ambassador

So, where were we... Oh yeah, hustled.

10th February 2009

The journey to Jaipur from Delhi was somewhat marred by the fact that we had been screwed over by the Tour Agent in Delhi. With four hours to think through the events of the previous evening, both of us were seething.

But there was nothing we could do about it, and, as it was too soon to laugh about it, I was determined to make the most of having a local driver to tell us all about the fascinating world that is India.

The journey to Rajastan was interesting; this was our first view of India that wasn't a noisy city.

Either side of the motor way the land stretched far and beyond with fields as far as the eye could see. Mustard seed and grass was the main product. It was green and lush and beautiful. But as we neared Jaipur all this began to change.

The land became more barren and the green was replaced with scrub land. Small rocky hills started to appear on the horizon. We were moving into a new area of Delhi.

We arrived mid-evening at a lo-budget guesthouse. We had refused the tour operator's offer of arranging accomodation when he quoted a ridiculous price so we were quite happy to pay considerably less by cutting out the middle man.

Once we sorted our lives out, our driver Kishor took us for dinner. Having been stung in Delhi with the tour we were determined to make our food and accomodation as cheap as possible. So we went and ate with locals.

It was a real ramshackle of a restaurant, and we couldn't read the menu - it was all in Hindi - but we had fantastic curry and chapatti dinner.

After dinner there was a fantastic storm. The lightening was amazing.

11th February 2009 - An unexpected meeting with Bollywood

The mroning started with a phonecall to the Tour Operator. That was fun.

There had been some mix up about wheter our entrance costs to the sights in Rajasthan were included in the money we had paid. In the office the guy (who called himself 007 - don't know why) had said they were, but the contract he gave us did not include this and the driver was unaware also.

I rang 007 and asked if the entrance fees were included. My calm inquiry was recipricated by a massive rant! He started shouting, ranting and raving. I kept calm (although very pissed off). He accused me of thinking him a liar - i replied saying he had lied about Holi Day, so why should I trust him. He ranted some more called me stuipid for thinking the entrance fees were inluced and hung up on me.

I rang straight back.

This time I was personally blamed for the British colonising India - oh yeah, it was all my fault! This did actually make me really mad. I couldn't believe it. While I was fighting back tears he asked to speak to the driver. I duly handed the phone over. Two minutes later the phone was back in my hand and he said that to rectify the situation he would pay for our entry into the Taj Mahal (10 pounds each). I agreed, after all it was only a couple of pounds to pay to get into the other sights that we wanted to see, and ten pounds was better than no pounds.

So after that little kerfuffle to kick start the day we set off to Amber Fort a few kilometres outside Jaipur.

We entered the fort and there were literaally thousands of locals pushing and shoving to get forward. We were so confused, what was going on. Then we looked down into the main entrance to discover elephants, soldiers, royalty and a few camera men. We walked right into a Bollywood film set.

The colours were incredible and the sheer scale that they had taken over the site was vast.

We made it through the crowds and into the Fort. The first few things we saw were incredible - a builging decorated purely with mirrors and the most fantastic artwork painted on to the oputside of the walls. Thne, we fell off the beaten track and got a bit lost. The pump house and latrines were not as splendid thats for sure. The views however over th town of Amber were amazing still though.

We headed to two more hillside forts before headfing back into the city of Jaipur. From Nahargargh the view of Jaipur was amazing. The lake look so peaceful and placid and the city so busy.

Jaipur is the capital of Rajasthan. And is pretty massive! Much bigger than I anticipated.

We spent the afternoon exploring the city. We walked for hours through the bazaars admiring all the saris that glittered in the sun light.

Jaipur was a lot less hassle than Delhi. There was no one tring to grab you attention and offer to be you guide. There was a bit of begging but like in Old Delhi most people were just getting on with their day.

The follwoing morning 12th February we headed to the City Palace. This was beautiful. It was similar inside to the other buildings that we had seen but was much better kept and maintained/ With our audio tours we learnt all about the different types of royal dress, the armouries and the collections. The Hall of Private Audiences inside the palace was simply amazing; it was very rich and regal but despite the gold was not in the slightest bit gaudy or vile.

We then stumbled into the Jantar Mantar Observartory next to the Palace. This was a mystery. Surely it was just a park with some funky sculptures. As we approached the first sculpture we realised it was a sun dial! Of course. And as we wondered round we discovered that akll these funky sculptures were sun dial type things that plotted the stars, moon, sun everything. We couldn't make a lot of sense of it all as there were so many lines and guides and markings on each dial. As we left we thought we might have been better with a guide, but given the complicated nature of celestial mapping, I don't think a guide would have made us any wiser.

That afternnon we set off to Poshkar.

12th, 13th, 14th February

Arriving in early evening was a good time to arrive in Pushkar we wondered through the streets as they were getting busy.

Immediately Pushakar was a much smaller place that anywhere we had been and definitely the most touristy. All of the sari shops were gone and in their place were travellers clothes. The strappy vest tops were certainly not for the locals.

I wasn't sure if i liked the place that evening. It was very different and didn';t seem very Indian. Just lots of white facs with dreadlocks living an easy life.

The next day I formed a very different opinion!

We walked along the south side of the lake in Pushkar. This lake is one of the holy pilgrim sights in India. TThe remains of Ghandi were scattered in the lake and lots of other notabl Indian figures also.

From the south of the lake you could see all the ghats. It was beautfiul and there were very few people around to spoli the peaceful and relaxing ambience.

We decided to take th 250ft climbe to a hilll top templ to look down on the lake, the city and the other temples. Starting off on this walk in the midday heat was not the best plan ever! But once startd we were determined to finish.

Then error strcuk, i broke my flip flop! Half way up and with only one flip flop in tact i paniceked. And clobbered together a quick fix with elastic bands and a safety pin... This only meant one thing./... Shoe shopping was a priority when back down the hill! Wooo! However this moment of prospective purchasing delight was cut short when a group of mioonkeys came to us. Emma rahhhed them and I did a runner with my dodgy flip flop! They must have smelt our bread in our bag. Tehy looked so vicious!!!!

We eventually made it to the top in one piece - exceptmy flip flop. The view was exceptional. after a fair break we headed back down.

(Right, i'm going to have to stop hgere aas the power in kathmandu is about to go off... but when i get chance next i will get back on to finish this tale!)

Lots of love xx





Wednesday, 11 February 2009

Delhi in two and a half days... (Sunday, Monday and Tuesday morning)

Before we arrived I had heard Delhi was a horrible, dirty place with chaos on every street corner. But as the plane landed, I put all of these thoughts out of my mind and made my way through the airport with an open mind.



The bus journey that took us close by to our hostel was fairly quiet, but then again we did arrive at 7am on a Sunday morning.



Off the bus we wondered down the Main Bazaar in the Paharganj area of the city. We had picked up a map from the airport and had drawn the hostel's map before we left the UK so vaguely worked out where we needed to be: straight down the Main Bazaar then the second left. The map seemed simple and we assumed the hostel would be easy to find.



The street was fairly quiet and there were a few stalls opening up and a reasonable amount of people making their ways.



We walked with clear intent so that we wouldn't get hassled into another hostel by keen touts.



When we reached a fork in the road we realised that we must have passed the second left... Surely the narrow ginnels that went off the Main Bazaar weren't the streets so clearly marked on the map. As we headed back the way we came we realised that these narrow passageways were the side streets that the map led us to believe were much more prominent side streers.



With the help of an over-friendly local, who seemed genuine to help us, we found the alleyway to our hostel.



We were able to go straight in to our rooms and so decided to have a power nap... Three hours later we woke up!



We decided to head to the Tourist Information Office first to get a map of India and chat to people about our plans.



Back out on the Main Bazaar was a different world. The quietly bubbling street was an absolute hive of activity. People, rickshaws, cars, cows were everywhere... and this street was no wider than 10 meters with so many pot holes, wires sticking out of road and holes. It was chaos. It was Delhi. And after just five minutes, I loved it.



The busy streets were mesmorising and life was everywhere.



We headed to the official tourist information as per the good ole Lonely Planet. Determined to walk there we quickly acquired a kind man who offered to get us there. He told us we must only ever go to the official tourist office. He warned us against the dodgy tour operators who were overpriced.



He pointed out the initials on the door which represented the government approved tourist office.



Two hours later we came out. They had tried to sell us a trip to Kashmir, which they had insisted was better than Nepal. Despite their ardent insistence, we didn't buy into it, but agreed to a city tour for 500 rupees.



The city tour set off straight away and would continue till lunchtime the next day. This would be a great way to see the city and get to grips with the chaos.



It cerainly was a fantastic way to get around. Driving in the city was an experience in itself. The secret was very simple but not discreet: use the horn at every opportunity!

That evening and the next day we saw all the great sights of Delhi: The Red Fort (from the outside only), The Lotus Temple (think Sydney Opera House/Lotus plant), Birla Mandir, Chandni Chowk, Jama Masjid MOsque, Raj Ghat, Rajpath, The Mughal Gardens, Qutib Manir. (I promise to add pictures as soon as I possibly can). The city was amazing and the architecture on display at all these sites was incredible.

The higlight for me was in Old Delhi. We had climbed the minaret at Jama Masjid and looked over the Old city. From high up it was buzzing. Once we left the mosque we headed through the streets and wholesale markets. The place was so vibrant, with coloured flowers everywhere, bright saris, incredible smells of all the spices. For me, this was perfect. Every corner I turned I was in awe. I was just waiting for the streets to burst into song like in Bollywood movies. Walking fown Chadni Chowk was great too. Everywhere was busy and I've never been anywhere that feels so alive.

We found a small sanctuary of quiet in the Raj Ghat garden which was bliss after the constant horn-blaring and bustle of the Old Town.

By the end of Monday we felt as though we had 'done' the Delhi tourist scene. We had ticked off all of the sites we wanted to see and had experienced something incredible in Old Delhi.

Monday night we went to return to our hostel but were dragged into another tourist office. Not the official one. One of the many in Paharganj. We walked away without buying anything saying we would think about it, and we then made our way to the railway station with the intention of buying a train ticket to get us on our way to Kathmandu... that was when we got hustled, Yes, hustled.

The ticket desk at the train station was closed. And a very helpful man told us that as tourists to buy train tickets we had to go to the tourist office, but that we must go soon as it would close at 8pm, and, as tomorrow (Tuesday) was Holi Day it would be closed. HE showed us on a map where the official tourist office was and was keen that we went immefiately. As we walked away we decided that we would spend an extra day or two in Delhi before heading in the direction of Nepal. So off we went for food.

Walking along we saw a man who looked into a temple and bowed to the deity. He turned to us and said "This is my religion. Tomorrow is Holi, big festival for my religion." A conversation ensued and he showed us his government card, we trusted him immediately as he confirmed the man at the train station's comment that we had to buy tickets at the tourist office. He said that because of Holi we would have to go the tourist office now if we wanted to leave Delhi soon. He flagged us a rickshaw telling them the address of the tourist information office and insisted that the driver charged us the local price of ten rupees.

Great we thought. AS we made our way over, we realised ourselves that the information office we went to on Sunday could not have been the official office. It had no maps, leaflets and there insistence to put us on a tour was clearly not advice but a sale!

We were relieved that at last we would be at the official toruist office and we would be able to get on our way to our next stop.

We told the man at the information centre what we wanted to do. He said that was a great plan, and said that Nepal was lovely. He recommended that we visited Rajastan before Nepal saying that in a few weeks it would be too hot for Rajastan. This made sense, go to Rajastan before it heated up and then up to the cool in Nepal.

He told us that we could not get trian tickets to Rajastan as the desert made travel difficult. He said the best way to get around was by private car. He gave us a price of 600 pounds to for two weeks with all included except lunch and dinner. That meant hotels, sightseeing, petrol everything.

We did not want to spend that much money on just two weeks travel! So declined and said that we wanted cheaper hostels not hotels. He reckoned another price and it came down lower.

After two and a half hours in the office we said we would come back tomorrow (Wednesday). HIs response: "It is holi day tomorrow and we are closed". We decided that we wanted to get out of Delhi soon and ended up forking out 230 pounds each.

What! 230 pounds!

Yes, I know it's a lot of money... but it did include a six day tour around Rajastan (not including sleeping) and ALL of our main train journeys right up to the end of our trip (about ten trains). It was a lot of money, but we figured that booking the trains ahead was a good thing as the trains always were booked up.

We headed back to hostel feeling pain after parting with so much money. But it was a relief to know that we had paid for all of our transport.

Tuesday morning we met a couple at breakfast who told us that you can buy tickets at the train station, but you have to insist your way through the guards. Although the trains are always full, every train has a tourist quota that means you can guarantee a ticket the day before. If only we had met this couple the day before!

To be honest, this didn't bother me too much. The six day car tour of Rajastan was costing use 123 pounds and included sightseeing fees (including the Taj Mahal) and we had bought all of our main train tickets for around a hundred pounds. At the end of the day, it could have been a lot worse!

SHortly after breakfast our driver came to pick us up and we set off on out trip to Rajastan. In the car we asked him about Holi Day, and his response was: "It is not Holi Day today". \

Well and truly hustled! We realised the guy at the train station was conning us to go to the 'official' tourist board, the guy who we saw bow to the hindu temple was also in on it and must have followed us, and the 'official' tourist board was just waiting for us to come in hving been tipped off by the two men.

Oh the luxury of hindsight! It sounds really stupid outlining all this, how did we not realise?

Emma beat herself up about it a lot. I didn't so much, I was greatful for the small things, after all we could have spent a lot, lot more had we not beaten the tourist office's prices down. And at the end of the day it wasn't going to be money that we had lost outright, we had a car for the next six days, we were going to places that we actually wanted to go to and all of our train tickets were booked.

So yeah, that is the story of how we got hussled and how we found Delhi.\

Sadly this experience on our last night certainly put a downer on Delhi. THe place was amazing! The people we had met were not quite so amazing. As we drove to Jaipur (capital of Rajastan) I reflected on all of the people we had met, most of whom had tried to con us into a trip.

So Delhi in one word... Dizzying.

Friday, 6 February 2009

MS AMY HARRISON you're ready to fly

My boarding card tells me that I am ready to fly.

I know that I am ready to fly.

Can someone please just tell the snow that I am ready to fly.

In this whole delay I have not cried once - pretty impressive for emotional me.

I will cry tomorrow whether I fly or not.

I just hope it will be tears of relief.

I feel absolutely sick inside. This is the worst feeling ever.

Thursday, 5 February 2009

2 days to Delhi

This time last week I was so unbelievably excited about my travels. So. Unbelievably. EXCITED.

Four days after my original departure date and with two days to go before my revised departure date, excited I am not.

I want to travel so much. I can't wait to get out of the UK and explore the world. I can't wait to get to India. I just don't feel excited.

I don't really know how I feel right now. 

I think I'm still in shock. 

I'm scared the plane might get cancelled, again. 

I just want to get on the plane and land in Delhi, then I'll get excited.




Wednesday, 4 February 2009

Monday in Pictures








What happened on Monday

Sunday was quite literally manic. 

Although I had packed on Saturday, I still had ten million things to do on Sunday: updating my iPod, recovering my iTunes after accidentally deleting all my music, tidying my room, sending long overdue emails and other bits and pieces.

The one thing that kept me going through it all was the million, billion tiny butterflies inside my tummy that knew I would be on my way to Delhi in 24 hours.

In light of the snow, we decided that leaving at 6 would be sufficient; we had already checked in online, so all we had to do was clear security by 11.15am. The 65 mile journey normally took 90 minutes.

At 4.30am I had a knock at my door, "We need to leave as soon as possible, the M11 is closed and the snow is a nightmare!"

By 5.30am we were in the car and on our way.

I have never seen snow so thick at my house. My street looked absolutely beautiful under a blanket of snow. But the "We're never going to make it" atmosphere in the car meant we couldn't quite savour the moment.

This journey was not going to take 90 minutes.

I won't go into the details of the journey, but here are some of the highlights:
  • The story of the snow covered track
    At the first sign of blue flashing lights, Dad decided it would be best to follow a road that in normal conditions can be described best as a track. So when hidden under six inches of snow this track was lots of fun. But with TomTom to guide us we'd make it through. 

We didn't. 

When we realised that we couldn't go any further without the aid of a snow plow  
        we decided to reverse and turn around. 

Only, the car wouldn't reverse. It was stuck. Mum, Emma and I jumped out of the car and started pushing. Emma (who sensibly opted at the last minute to wear her walking boots instead of flip flops) fell flat on her face in true slapstick style. 

After a couple of minutes the car was unstuck and we went back down the little track.
  • The discovery of Dad's survival bag. 
My dad, if you've never met him, is a legend. And, although he was never a scout, he 
does like to be prepared! When we finally reached the M25 (after taking detours to bypass the accidents) he asked me to reach into the green sports/survival bag in the boot to grab him a pair of socks.

So being the dutiful daughter I am, I obliged, but I was puzzled as to how he would change his socks while driving round the M25 in the most treacherous conditions.

Inside the survival bag I discovered, several bananas, some overalls, socks and the thing that made me laugh the most... a tin of herrings in honey mustard sauce. Genius. 

After three hours on the road we finally made it to Terminal Five. In the snow we said our goodbyes to my Mum and Dad and with the biggest smiles on our faces set off to the departures hall. We would have plenty of time to kill in the airport but we didn't care, we were on our way.

But when we looked at the departures screen, we discovered the worst thing in the world... Our flight has been cancelled. Not delayed... cancelled.

So we got in a queue to rebook our flight. A queue which was about 4 hours long. A queue which consisted of all the passengers, from all the cancelled flights that morning (at least twenty four flights but very well more)

Full of the optimism of youth, we decided that this was no biggie. We'd be able to get on a flight tomorrow and that we'd spend the night in the airport. Easy.

We reckoned that because we were at the airport so early there wouldn't be many people in front of us that were on our flight, thus meaning that we wouldn't have any problem getting on another flight.
 
As we queued I decided that ringing STA might be a good call, given that they were our travel agent. After at least 30 minutes on hold I was told that the next flight to Delhi that we could get on would be Saturday 7th February.

I was gutted. And as Emma was taking a nap I had no one to share this with. Absolutely gutted.

Out of desperation I asked the lovely STA lady if we could change our flight from to Delhi to somewhere else in India... Mumbai, Calcutta get us anywhere! Kathmandu would be fine even.

Forty minutes later my phone rings, and the nice lady at STA tells me that British Airways would only let us rebook on a flight to Delhi. And there I was thinking I was doing British Airways a favour!

The next question was how much would it cost to fly somewhere else? Somewhere else not even in India or Nepal.

Twenty minutes later came this response: If you want to change the destination of the first leg of your Round the World ticket, you would have to cancel your entire ticket and rebook again (and pay again). 

So Saturday it was.

We made our way out of the queue and made phone calls informing parents, boyfriends and friends. 

We were in a state of total shock. The excitement and optimism that kept us going was completely gone. We had five days to wait before we could set off on our trip.

We sat on the floor of the airport in a daze. What we do for the next five days? We were fully prepared and packed, there was nothing left to do. 

There was no rush to get back home, we knew the roads would be bad and coaches would be delayed, we figured the trains would also be running slow.

Getting home was a 'mare. The coach we were waiting for to Stansted Airport (right by my house) was decommissioned, so we were left with the tube/train option to my house. Except the train line was down. 

We ended up travelling from one end of the tube line to the other, Heathrow to Epping. 

It was all a bit rubbish, but we were in good spirits still.

Back home we finished the long day off with a bottle of Asti, cwtched up under blankets on the sofa and a soap marathon that lasted from 6pm till 9pm. 

Monday, 2 February 2009

The day I didn't fly to Delhi...

So.... Emma and I were supposed to set off today on the big trip.... We didn't. I'm back home now and very, very tired in lovely, snow-covered Hertfordshire.