Monday, 30 March 2009

A quick update from Thailand

At this very minute I am sat in an internet cafe on the island of Koh Tao off the East of Thailand. It took us 31 hours to get here from our paradise in Mira Beach on the Perhentian Islands (Malaysia).

Once we sorted our Thai visas in KL we headed to the Cameron Highlands and then to Mira Beach.

We haven't really been to a lot of places since I last wrote, but we have had lots of fun and antics that's for sure.

Not too sure how long we are spending in Koh Tao, there are a number of factors at play. But tonight we are sleeping in a cute little shack with no electricity for a super cheap three pounds!

I don't really have time to write everything now, but my diary has now become my drafting zone for my blogs so when I next get a good long stint to update I will do so.

A few teases for when I do finally write:

Free things
One night's accomodation in Jeteh
Factor 30 suncream
Paradise
Learning to love lizards

And the elusive Taj Mahal post is finally written and ready for public consumption.

That's all folks (for now anyway - rest assured when i do get chance to write I will write aplenty for you).

Sunday, 22 March 2009

The Taj Mahal

Don't get too excited, I'm not writing about it just yet... but what I wanted to say is that I haven't forgotten about it.

The Taj Mahal was amazing and I want to try and do it justice. So I'm going to write it in rough and then type it up when I get the chance.

I promise it will come eventually!

A facemask, for your breasts...

One thing I love about travelling the world is the plethora of amazing things you find in the shops and supermarkets.

Last night we popped into a chemist.

Here we found a bra-shaped sachet that looked as if it should be a facemask. It was in fact a facemask for your boobs! The facemask firmed and tinted your clevage with a rosie glow.

Pure brilliance. Why don't we have these back home?

Picture will follow shortly I promise!

Speaking Malaysian again...

On my previous trips to Malaysia and Indonesia I managed to pick up quite a few words. I wasn't fluent by any means, but the vocabulary I built up definitely got me by.

Me and mum still occasionally say to each other "teri makasih", "sama sama" (thank you, your welcome". Which is a bit strange seeing as we were last out here in 2003 (aaages ago).

But its definitely nice to be able to speak the lingo again. I can ask people how they are, ask how much something costs and pick out the odd words like star, white, beach, white, good. All good and very important phrases and words.

I'd like to stay in Malaysia a bit longer just so I can keep speaking Malaysian. I don't know any words in Thai.

Last time I was in Kuala Lumpur

Last time I was in Kuala Lumpur I was 17.

I spent most of the time buying designer handbags. I think I bought about 5 - a Christian Dior, two Fendis, a Louis Vuitton and a Gucci.

I was a bit obsessed with handbags back then. I still am now. But I've resisted the temptations.

Walking through Chinatown past all the handbags has not been easy. There are some very nice Coach bags and even a nice Anna Sui design going on.

But this time, I don't have a big suitcase. This time, I just have a backpack.

And buying a designer handbag would be completely unnecessary and inappropriate.

To quench my desire for fake designer goodness, I bought a pair of Chanel Sunglasses. My pair broke back in Goa, so it was essential they were replaced.

Travel luxuries

Up until yesterday I only had one travel luxury with me.

That luxury is my Elizabeth Arden Eight Hour Cream. For my lips when they get really really sore. I do have bog standard lip salve but there have been times when it just hasn't been enought to rehydrate my sore lips. In these situations the Eight Hour Cream has been bliss!

But yesterday while mooching around the swanky shopping mall beneath the Petronas Towers I had to indulge in another luxury....

A pair of Bright Orange Body Shop Exfoliating Gloves.

Back home I use these all the time, but I didn't think I would need them while travelling and they felt far too much like a luxury to be taking with me anyway.

But without them I have felt grubby and minging. With sun cream build-up, city dirt and general grime, I just haven't felt clean.

So when I saw Body Shop I just had to pop in and buy a pair.

My shower this morning was lovely and I actually came out feeling clean. Lush.

Where am I now...?

We left Mumbai on Wednesday night and flew to Bangkok. From Bangkok we caught a connection to Kuala Lumpur. We arrived in KL late on Thursday night and decided to sleep in the airport rather than face late night hunt for accomodation in KL without a Lonely Planet.

KL and Malaysia were not on the original itinerary of the trip (hence we didn't have the appropriate guide book provision), but we headed down to meet Maggie and Caren.

Before we left the airport on Friday morning to find accomodation we discovered that Emma's bag had been broken in to! Oh yes! One of her combination locks had been hijacked and then stuck back on again. So Emma spent a few hours lodging a complaint and checking her bag to make sure no drugs had been planted on her.

By the time we got to KL it was 2pm. By 3pm we had found a cheap and decent room. By 3.15pm i was fast asleep. Obviously the previously night's sleep wasn't particularly great on the uncomfortable airport seats.

Two hours later I was refreshed and the two of us went for a wander to buy a belated birthday tea party and gin for Maggie.

That evening we ate cake, biscuits and hula hoops and drank gin and sprite. A beautiful evening!

The next morning (Saturday) I felt a bit minging. Properly run down, on the verge of being sick, photophobic (is that the one where you don't like light), super hot then super cold. Very strange. While the other three had a leisurely breakfast on the roof I made myself better with rest and ginger tea.

By 1pm we were off on a walking tour taking in the delights of KL.

Now, this is my second trip to KL so I kind of had a good sense of where we were going and what to see. We wandered round the city centre and skyscraper-lined streets. I love the shininess and newness of the city centre. Then we made our way to the Petronas Towers (twin towers of Malaysia), we made the most of the Air Con as we wandered around the very exclusive shops. We then headed to the park and enjoyed the sun and the outdoor swimming pool.

From here we headed to the Menara tower (the 4th tallest tower in the world!). We didn't head up it as it was very expensive.

Then we worked our way to Little India where we reminiced over India and our memories from there. It was a nice memory.

Tired and weary we headed back through Chinatown to our little room.

So that was a bit of a dot to dot rubbish post. Sorry about that.

We are still in KL now as we have to pop into the Thai Embassy tomorrow to ask them to extend our visa to allow us enough time to apply for our Chinese and Vietnam visas in Bangkok. Because we are entering thailand by land we will only get a 14day visa, and we are worried this might not be enough if we get stuck waiting around on visas!

The plan for tomorrow is get out visas sorted and then head to the jungle! Woop! We are going to head North to the Thai border and take in a couple of places en-route. Very exciting. Fingers crossed our visas work out ok.

The last two days in India

Mumbai is amazing. Most definitely my favourite city in India.

We spent our last two days trekking around the city seeing all the sights, soaking up the ambience and eating every variety of street food we hadn't already tried.

To be honest, I don't have a lot to say about Mumbai, well i do, but i can't quite put the words together right now.

Mumbai is a beautiful city. I have lots of pictures of lots of amazing buildings. I will add these eventually to give you a snap shot.

We also went to see a full-on Hindi Bollywood movie. It was essentially the Producers but a la Bollywood. Amazing. It was quite funny to see the extras looking all sun burnt and over the top in the background. Oh dear, can't wait to see our film! Quite possibly the strangest bit of this cinema experience was when the whole cinema had to stand for the Indian national anthem. Well, i say the whole cinema, there were only eight of us in there. But still, we were told by the ushers to stand, and stand we did and we enjoyed the spledour of an old Indian woman singing away! Fab.

One of the best things about Mumbai is Chowpatty beach. An amazing city, with a cool beach in the middle of it (well, on the edge). We had a sunset paddle and chill on the beach while enjoying delightful tutti-frutti ice cream with noodles mixed in. Lovely stuff.

Marine Drive is also very exciting! Especially at night when all the lights are lit up around the palm trees and everyone is strolling along the riverside. Very serene and lovely.

We also hit some markets in Mumbai. These were a bit stressful, and we were hot and bothered so didn't hand around for long.

As for the food... i definitely ate was was essentially a deep fried sandwich. Bellos! We also picked up some more Puri (like the stuff we ate in Panaji). This time it was a different variety of puri but still very yummy none the less.

So yes, i think that is essentially Mumbai. We were very busy and did lots of walking and lots of eating. An amazing end to our first trip in India!

Oh, and one more thing...

We also got paid for being Bollywood Stars. Oh yes!

1000 rupees!

About 13 pounds.

Most definitely my worst paid job EVER.

Monday, 16 March 2009

Today I wore high heels...

'Tis true, at 7.30pm this evening I squeezed my feet into a pair of size five, black, patent stillettos (my feet are a size seven).

After six weeks of liberation in flip flops why on earth did I don a pair of heels?

One reason... BOLLYWOOD!

We arrived at Mumbai this morning at 6am. We decided that we would have a quick nap in the train station before braving the mean and expensive streets of Mumbai.

By 9am we were at the Salvation Army Hostel - the cheapest beds in Mumbai!

By 9.30am we were on location with a Bollywood film crew.

AMAZING.

Before coming to India there were two things I wanted to do: 1. See the Taj Mahal. 2. Be in a Bollywood movie.

In fact, I think I said to my parents before I left that I wouldn't leave India without being an extra in a Bollywood movie. Quite a claim.

Knowing we only had three days in Mumbai, I realistically decided that I wouldn't have the time to make my Bollywood debut.

We had already seen Bollywood in action back in Jaipur, so I resigned that this would be the closest I would get to Bollywood.

But there it was on a plate, waiting for us as we checked in at our hotel.

We stepped into the reception and a casting agent was in the lobby. She immediately asked us if we wanted to be in a movie.

In an instant we had our bags upstairs in the room and we were on our way.

I was SO excited!

We were the last to arrive and we were immediately ushered to 'costume'. The woman was disappointed with my ali baba trousers, they wanted 'Western' clothes for this nightclub scene.

But after some rummaging she found me a little pearler of a costume. A denim, dungaree type dress, elasticated at the hem and under the bust. It also had a pretty pink gypsy style top sewed into it. Looking good!

We didn't get any make up, and our hair was fine as it was, apparently - errr, not likely after a night on a train.

We were thrown onto the set and did lots of dancing to the same song. We did this over and over again.

It was repetitive and between takes there was a lot of waiting.

But it was amazing fun.

Now, be warned, should you ever see this film, and should you catch a glimpse of me in my dungaree-dress, you will see me dancing wildly, like a crazy-fool. That was what the director wanted!

Then came the next costume change.

Another corker of an outfit.

A cream skirt. A black asymetric vest. A see-through handkerchief top with a pretty(!) pattern. Added to the costume change we had to change our hair.

With just two bobbles on me i opted for two spiky buns on either side of my head (a la Princess Leia-ish) .

I looked as if I should have been an extra in 'Kevin and Perry Go Large'. Seriously!

In our new guises we filmed the dance scene to one of the big numbers in the film. If you can't see my face in this, you will definitely see my black and white stripy bangle flailing around in the air.

The Directors were great. They constantly shouted "More energy" and "Louder, Louder". It was fun but tiring and the lunch was well deserved.

I took all afternoon to film this one scene. And the song is still playing over in my head.

At six o clock it was all over and everyone was tired and fed up of waiting. I had a great day, but there were plenty of people with unhappy faces.

But there was still one scene to film. The extras were cherry picked for this one. I wasn't chosen. Emma was.

But as it happened I got to be in the scene anyway as lots of people had to leave.

And this was the time for the best costume yet!

The scene involved queuing to get into the nightclub. So there I was in a bright green clubbing skirt and pink top. Fit. I was quite happy, not overjoyed as there was certainly no co-ordination going on, but it was fine.

Then, they brought out big over coats, scarves, balaclavas (oh yes!) and gloves. It was then we found out the night club was in Chicago.

So there we were, a motley crew of ten or so in 30 degree Mumbai heat, pretending to be in freezing-cold Chicago.

We were melting. They kept having breaks to mop our sweaty brows. Hilarious.

Most girls had jeans on, but I looked like the slapper who goes out in a coat that is longer than her skirt. Brilliant.

I had some fetching fleecy orange gloves, that you would use when climbing Everest. These didn't make the final take as it was just too hot for them.

The only problem with this was my footwear. My flip flops were in shot, and who would wear flip flops in a queue for a club. So, yes, this was where the heels came into it. Of course, none of them fit me. I had to strap them to my feet with myhair bobbles so I could walk. Pure genius but totally ridiculous.

Staying the extra two hours was well worth it. It totally redeemed the long waiting around we had earlier in the day.

It was just hilarious, baking hot in all these layers and acting all cold as I tottered along in ill-fitting shoes.

What a fantastic day, and my Bollywood dream come true. The film was called "What is your Rashee (horoscope)?" and should be out in six months. So, if you watch it, look out for me in the nightclub and in the queue for the nightclub, that is, of course, if i make the final cut!

Today has been my favourite day in India so far. FACT.

Sunday, 15 March 2009

Road signs that I have seen today

Don't drive rash, avoid crash

Never mix driving with drinking

Don't become a hell-mate wear a helmet

Buh-rilliant!

---

I also saw another road sign in Nepal - aaaages ago. It was a sexual health awareness poster: "Do not act like a Rooster, act responsibly" I think in a round about way it was telling men to use condoms.

The people we've met in India (and Nepal)

The Loveliest Couple in India
We met Haritha and Purushotham at Tundla train station in the waiting room. They were instantly lovely and wanted to talk to us. They were the first couple that we had seen that appeared to be in love. They were just giggling between themselves and talking. Very sweet. They had been to Agra for the weekend to visit the Taj Mahal. They enjoyed weekend trips around India seeing their country. They invited us to stay with them at Hyderabad. We tried to arrange this but we couldn't manage it with dates etc. Such a shame. They were so lovely and sweet mainly because they were so in love, it's just something you don't see a lot of in India.

The Nepali man with a funny hat
We were trying to find the Garden of Dream in Kathmandu but we got a bit lost so asked for directions. This man walked with us to get us on the right track. It was on his way so he was happy. Here are some of the cracking lines he entertained us with. "Do not worry Chicken curry" and "Worry not coconut". He laughed at himself a lot. We laughed at him too. He was brilliant,.

Mr Jeehtu
Definitely a bit of a character this one. He spent most of the time flirting with Emma by talking in their secret language of Spanish. He even played Boyzone's "When You Say Nothing At All" for her. He was an Indian man who wanted to be a Westener. He owned the hotel and camel safari that we went on in Jaisalmer. He explained a lot about Indian relationships. He thought they were backward. He was never going to marry someone his parents chose for him, and, because he was a successful businessman he could do whatever he liked. He completely refused to engage with the culture he came from. He laughed at the fact that the Karma Sutra came from India commenting that "Most Indian men wouldn't even recognise their wives naked."

The old man on the train to Goa
"My son is a doctor in Liverpool" This was one of the first things this little old man said to his. Hew as very proud of the fact that he had been to the UK six times, and that he was going again in April. He was very apolog3etic when a young girl came through the carriage begging. He explained that unlike the UK where there are benefits, India had too many people to support and so couldn't have benefits for everyone. He seemed to rank the UK as an amazing place where nothing bad could happen. He couldn't beleve it when I said that there were homeless people in the UK who couldn't claim benefits. He was horrified. He was very sweet and gave us a little of the picnic that his wife had prepared. This was very sweet of him. He also invited us to his home in Kerala,but we knew we wouldn't have time to visit Kerala so politely declined. Such a sweetie.

We've met lots of people in India, but it is kind of difficult. Those that speak the best English are those that are trying to sell you something. You rarely get a conversation with someone for the sake of a conversation. But those mentioned above have provided interesting and and insightful conversations to Indian and Nepali ways of life.

As for other travellers, we haven't really met any. Tourism is at a low at the moment in India since the Mumbai attacks. But we have met a few who we have shared fun times with. But I guess that's the way it goes. We will be meeting plenty more people in the places to come.

A post for Dad

Dad, you would love India.

There are Massey Ferguson Tractors EVERYWHERE! (I've taken a picture for you)

And... in Jodhpur, they had a whole street that was like a hardware supermarket. They sold everything: ball bearings, screws, bolts, rivets, WD40. You'd have a field day. And I bet it was all super cheap!

Indian food

I've held off from talking about the food in India.

I had in mind that as soon as I got hit by Delhi Belly I would write something about the food. But I haven't been hit by Delhi Belly yet - touch wood.

Quite simply, the food has been amazing.

It was a bit hot at first, but I battled through it and have learnt to love it.

Here are my favourite meals:

Egg Curry - from Jodhpur. A.M.A.Z.I.N.G. Whodda thunked it? Eggs in a curry!

Vailakanaa Mumtaz Special - from Goa, cashew nuts and all the best flavours

Puri - served from a road side in Panaji vendor deep fried shells of pastry served with amazing mango chutney and curry sauce

Cheap Thali - 25 Rupees in a rat infested train station cafe. Not the nicest setting for dinner but cheap as chips and a pretty good Thali.

My least favourite meals:

Dal Bhat - Nepal, quite literally dull, bland lentils and overcooked spinach. We only had this once.

Boiled eggs with honey - I ordered boiled eggs for breakfast at the beach in Goa. I expected soft boiled eggs so cut my toast into soldier. I tapped the top of the egg and realised they were hard boiled. I was devastated. Emma suggested putting ketchup on the eggs to make them more appetising. I did this. But it wasn't ketchup in the ketchup bottle... it was honey. Hmmm... nice. Not really a bad meal just a disappointing one.

Jam sandwiches - we've had a lot of these. jam is cheap, bread is cheap, and it saves us buying breakfast. I normally like jam, but we've had a lot now and I'm a bit sick of it.

So, yeah, food here has been pretty amazing. Even in the most basic and humble street side cafes we've been wowed by the food.

For now, I'm keeping my fingers crossed that my tummy survives the next few days in Mumbai.

Cooking in Udaipur

I love the food in India so the prospect of learning to cook in the Indian way was very exciting.

It cost about 8 pounds for the two hour class and we would learn 9 recipes.

It was good, but not that good.

I expected it would be a hands on experience for the full two hours. Instead, we took in turns to cook different things (there were four of us in the class) so we got to make like two things each. I made Korma sauce and a chappati.

It was a bit of a disappointing experience, fun, but we definitely expected more. I can't wait to get to a kitchen and cook some of the recipes though - Gwil get your kitchen stocked up with spices!

The best bit of it htough was getting to eat everything afterwards. We had a feast! And I kept on eating till I nearly burst with chappattis. The food was beautiful. Figners crossed I will be able to recreate teh same back home in the UK.

India has changed me

Anyone that knows me well will know that I don't drink milk. I haven't toouched the stuff in years! The thought of a glass of milk actually makes me want to be violently sick. So I live a life where I don't drink milk in tea and where I eat dry cereal.

But India has changed me.

Everywhere in India they sell chai. Chai is a mix of spices and hot milk.

Emma has been drinking it since we arrived. It has never really appealed to me, primarily because of the milk content, and secondly because you only get a 35ml cup - pitiful!

When we were in Udaipur we decided to take a cooking class. Ther first recipe we were taught was chai.

Now, to be fair, I don't really class making tea as cooking, Indian or otherwise, so I was a little shocked to see it in a cooking class.

So once we learnt to make the tea, we had the chance to drink it.

So there I was faced with milky chai. I'd watched it being made. I'd seen the white stuff being poured into the pan, i watched it boil and there was the glass in front of me.

I drank it.

Yes, I drank it. I drank a cup of tea with milk.

And... I enjoyed it.

The flavours of all the spices are beautiful! You can't really taste the milk because the spices overwhelm. It's just tasty hot liquid.

Now, before you all start, I'm not going to change completely and become a milk drinker. The thought of a glass of milk revolts me still. And British tea doesn't need milk! But this chai was really nice. I even had another cup on the train the other day.

So I guess I haven't found enlightenment, but I have discovered I can drink a cup of milky chai.

Trying to find something

India is famed for being a place where one goes to find peace, spiritual enlightenment and harmony.

I haven't found any of these things since being here.

And no one else that we have met has either.

I took an early morning walk along the beach this morning and there were a couple of westeners meditating on the beach. This is the first time we have seen anything like this.

Religion in India is everywhere, but it is so drummed in to every day life that you don't notice it as being anything profound. At Varanasi there was no sense of the spiritual as it was all so normal and regular. It was fascinating to watch, but the monotony with which the daily offerings and rituals were performed detracted from the underlying spirituality.

I didn't come to India for any spiritual enlightenment, but I kind of thought it might just happen and fall my way. We met an Italian in Varanasi who was on the search for enlightenment. He was so disappointed that he hadn't "found" anything at all.

I'm about to start reading a book about Hinduism. I think it's written by Gandhi. It has got something to do with Gandhi at any rate. I wonder if through reading this book I will become enlightened?

Back to the hustle and bustle

In the last three days we have done some good beach bumming. But three days has been enough.

It has been such a strange contrast. 5 weeks of utter chaos in Northern India. 4 days of unwinding in Panaji. 3 days of total chillout.

I am so excited to be going back to the hustle and bustle. It has been nice to relax, but I've really missed chaotic India.

I'm also very much looking forward to seeing the famous Mumbai train station for real. (Does that make me sound like a train geek?).

In the South it has been calm and relaxing with a backdrop of beautiful landscape. This is all very nice and lovely. But what I like about India is the chaos.

I love to see a million different things all going on at once. I love watching the world go by at a ridiculous pace. I love that India is just one big feast for the eyes.

The DEVICE #2

So Wendy and Owen brought us the DEVICEyesterday.

We decided to buy some eggs so that we could have hard boiled eggs for breakfast this morning.

Going to sleep I was so excited at the prospect of a hard boiled egg made with the aid of the DEVICE.

We woke up this morning and got things ready.

Then, there was a power cut.

The electricity never came back on.

We didn't get to have boiled eggs for breakfast.

One word: Devestated.

Our little shack on the beach

Our beach shack was great.

It wasn't the prettiest beach shack in the world, but it was home for three nights.

It was half shack, half concrete. There was no glass in the window. Just a metal frame. It even got cold in the night because the breeze came in through the window.

The floor was concrete.

The base of the bed was concrete.

The cold shower was amazing. But the water did sometimes run out in the evenings so you would have to wait 10 minutes for it to start again.

It was right on the beach.

It had a pig farm next to it so there were loads of little pigs running around. They were quite cute, until they started to fight and squeal at 5am.

I'm going to miss the little beach shack.

Saturday, 14 March 2009

We only have a few days left in India

Tomorrow we leave Goa and make our final train journey in India to Mumbai. We will arrive in Mumbai on Monday morning and then we leave for Bangkok on Wednesday night.

The DEVICE

We are a little bit excited today.

Today, Wendy and Owen* are bringing us a present that will revolutionize the rest of our trip.

Yesterday Owen was telling us about a heating element (like that inside a kettle) that you can buy that plugs into power socket. You simply plug in to the wall, stick the element into a pot and the water boils.

This sounded AMAZING and we were instantly excited at what we could make.

We could make tea, instant noodles, boil eggs.

Wendy, Owen and the DEVICE are due to arrive in ten minutes. I am very excited.


*my aunty and uncle who are staying in Goa for two months at the minute.

Friday, 13 March 2009

A little bit of User Generate Content

I'm trying my best to keep you up to date with the goings on of the trip, but I am sure there are plenty of things that you want to know that I haven't revealed to the world.

So... if you have any burning questions email, facebook or comment on here and I will do my best to reveal things to you.

For instance, you might be thinking "I wonder how tanned Amy is after five weeks in India?" So if you asked me this question via my facebook, email, comment system, I would quite happily oblige and answer. (Incidentally, I am not very tanned at all. All through the North we were covered up with long trousers and long sleeves. No sun on my body, just a burnt nose. After two days on the beach in a bikini the tan is starting to develop.)

Of a recent post - the one where we slept under the stars in the desert - mum asked how expensive it was to stay under the stars. The answer: Eighteen Pounds. I doubt we will stay in any hostels/guesthouses/hotels in the rest of this trip that will cost so much. The Eighteen pounds included the camel ride, dinner and breakfast as well though.

We ate really expensive fish last night

Being at Mandrem is so different to the rest of the trip so far. There is nothing to do here other than soak up the sun and the sea.

After 5 weeks of constant travelling it feels like we are having a bit of a holiday. I know, I know, ridiculous commet.

With this "holiday" mindset we've had a bit of a splurge.

We decided to try the local "pot wine" on the menu. Two pounds. Cheap as chips.

So I see "pot wine" on the menu and I expect a jug/carafe/pot of wine.

I didn't expect what we actually got.

The menus in India, like most places in the world, are full of spelling mistakes and typos. These are often entertaining and crack a giggle.

"Pot wine" was a typo.

A bottle of Port was brought to the table.

Port.

14%, Fortified Wine, Port.

Brilliant.

3 bottles later we definitely were on holiday.*

So the Port was the first night at Mandrem.

Last night we splashed out on the fish. We've had some great fish curries so far in Goa, but we knew we couldn't leave without trying tandoori fish.

It was amazing. Served with chips and rice. Delicious. Amazing.

So how much did this delightful kingfish cost. 275 rupees (three pounds and eighty pence). Phew, we are living a life of excess!

*shared between three of us (an aussie bloke joined the Port party)

Toto, I don't think we're in Kansas anymore

Goa has been an altogether different experience to that which we have experienced in India so far. There have been so many occasions that we have found ourselves saying "This isn't India."

But it is. And the diversity we have witnessed makes the country more and more exciting and fascinating to behold.

The first four days in Goa were spent in Panaji. We used Panaji as our base to get to other places such as Old Goa, Ponda (for the Spice Village), Anjuna, Chorao Island. The bus service is great and super cheap so we have been able to nip and pop all over the area.

Panaji is a great little city. There is a massive Portuguese influence here. There is a huge white Catholic Church that stands at the head of the Municipal Gardens. It is out of place in India, but in Panaji (and Goa) it is perfectly placed.

The pace of life is so much more chilled and there is far less hassle we have experienced anywhere else.

I loved the busy way of the India's Northern cities. I even loved the hassle. It's all part of that experience. It is so strange being in the same country but being a world away .

The countryside around Goa is green and lush. Palm trees line the roads and it is just beautiful.

Washing off the "colour"

So what exactly is this "colour"?

It is essentially like powder paint. Some of the stuff they sell is natural, some of the stuff is chemical.

We had heard previously that the natural stuff is easy to wash off, but the chemical stuff tends to stain.

We sensibly chose clothes that we didn't mind getting wrecked in case we were attacked with the "colour" that stained.

I went for my white trousers. This sounds a bit stupid, I admit, but they had got stained on a vermillion wall which I had been leaning against the day before. Error. So the white trousers it was.

At lunch a woman had told emma that getting the "colour" off was a nightmare. She told her account of the colour festival the previous year where her long blonde hair had to be cut short and dyed to get rid of it.

We were straight in the sea and scrubbing away the "colour" like crazy. We took our clothes in too and gave them a wash. We came out fairly clean and most of the powder came clean from our clothes.

The only bit that stained was the "colour" mixed with water that I dodged, but that Emma got splattered with.

After another shower back at the hotel we were clean from the colour and back to our normal self.

The festival is the equivalent of Harvest Festival back home. It marks the change of the seasons and the start of the summer. The significance of the festival is quite quaint. The idea being that in the winter you don't wash everyday because it is not so hot, but then in the summer it is important to wash everyday because of the heat. So the applying, and then washing off, of the colour is to indicate the change in washing. I like this idea.

Holi: The Festival of Colour

On Tuesday night we headed down to the local market in Panaji (10th March). We wandered through the fruit section, the fish section, the spice section. The place was alive with colour, people and amazing smells, and as we made our way to the edge of the market there was a real sense of excitement and anticipation.

The stalls on the edge of the market were selling "colour" (a bit like powder paint before it has been mixed) each stall had eight sacks of different coloured "colour". Yellow, Turquoise, Purple, Pink, Orange, Red, Green. The bright colours were great. But what was better was the frenzy of the locals buying up the "colour".

All the kids were ridiculously excited and the parents were just the same.

The colour festival is one that I've known about for a while. I've seen it in Bollywood movies and seen some amazing pictures of it. So I was very excited at being in India for this festival.

I went to bed on Tuesday night really giddy about the amazing sights we would see the next day.

Naturally the morning was a disappointemnt. On our walk to the bus stop we saw nothing. No "colour". At the bus station we saw a few men with a little colour on their heads, but nothing really dramatic.

I was not impressed.

But then we arrived at Mapusa.

All the men were covered in colour.

It was great. The powder was all over the streets, all over people's faces, hair and clothes. There was bright colour everywhere. Fantastic.

But even though the day was a holy day, life still went on. The markets were still open and everyone went on as normal - just covered in "colour"!

We got some great photos of some guys, but in return for a photo thye insisted we have some colour.

This was just the beginning.

Once people saw that we already had been "coloured", they knew they could get away with adding more colour to us.

After two hours on the market our faces were covered in the brightest of yellows, pinks, purple and orange.

The women on the markets (who didn't have any colour on them) just laughed at us and told us we looked beautiful. Even though an Indian woman would never be seen with the colour on them, they seemed to appreciate the fact that we had embraced their festival.

From Mapusa we jumped on the bus to Anjuna (we were heading for the famous flea market). On the bus there were a couple of other westeners. None of them had any colour on them.

At Anjuna there was even more "colour" and more fun. Everyone was going wild with it. We walked down to the market and got covered even more.

We had the biggest smiles on our faces.

The atmosphere was great. All the locals would see you coming and would get ready to pounce, armed with their "colour". Everyone was giggling and having a ball. It was just an incredible experience.

It's not quite paradise but I like it

Today is Saturday.

For the last two days we have been enjoying the sun, sea, sand fish and port (yes, port!) at Mandrem beach.

Deciding on which beach to get to was pretty tough. We didn't want to hit a crazy busy beach with lots of life and activity - we've been in India for 5 weeks so busy is the last thing we want. Everywhere we went we met people telling us different places to go. Arghhhhh!

It was a real last minute blind decision, but we eventually found ourselves on the bus to Mandrem.

We rocked up and found ourselves a cheap shack on the beach.

Within a few minutes we were on the beach.

The beach is nice. Fairly clean. Golden.

The sea is clean. Warm. But not crystal clear.

This beach isn't the most beautiful I have ever seen in the world. It's ok.

We went to Anjuna beach for a day trip on Wednesday and Mandrem beach is much nicer than the beach there.

So yeah in the scale of beaches i'd give it a 6/10.

I guess I just expected more having seen beautiful pictures of beautiful Goan sands.

We haven't really done much since arriving at the beach. Just reading, swimming and sun bathing. But after 5 weeks of chaotic India it was greatly needed!

Monday, 9 March 2009

An evening back home in the UK...

After leaving the internet cafe last night, Jones and I made a quick dash across the city to the INOX Cinema.

We had been told earlier in the day that Slumdog Millionaire was showing at 5pm and that we should go see it.

We arrived at the cinema eight minutes late and Emma was reluctant to go in having missed the start.

We ummed and ahhed and decided to go in despite having missed the first 13 minutes.

As we zipped in and sat in our seat we were immediately taken back home.

The seats were fully cushioned, with drinks holders and they even reclined a little for the ultimate cinema experience.

It was seriously like being back home.

That was until an hour into the film... The lights came up, the film stopped and everyone made their way out of the cinema.

Err?

An interval. Of course, an interval!

Jones popped out to buy some popcorn and I sat and watched the adverts.

But these were not the sophisticated adverts you get back home, oh no. This intermission adverts were basically business cards projected on the cinema screen that went round on a loop. Adverts for a face cream that includes tumeric, adverts for sari shops and restaurants. It was like the small ads you get in newspapers back home, but on the big screen.

Jones came back with popcorn. Caramel. About 70 pence. Bargain! Despite the fact that this cinema was practically in the UK, the cinema still hadn't learnt that it could hike up the prices! Mental.

So the adverts finished and the film restarted and we enjoyed the rest of the film.

Once the film had finished we went back out into the cinema to enjoy it. Wow, it really was like being back home. You could even buy nachos!

It was a really weird experience. Seriously weird.

Even the toilets were like those at Cineworld in Cardiff - right down to the metal panels with pretend rivets on them.

So weird.

But yeah, the film was great, beautiful and true to life. The poverty you see in the film is just what we experience on a day to day basis. It was a strange mirror of the world we have been absorbing the last few weeks.

If you haven't seen it, go see it.

Sunday, 8 March 2009

A very short post

Ok, this is a really short blog just to let you know where I've been since I last wrote. It is short for 3 reasons:

1. I'm very tired and can't be bothered to write too much
2. Slumdog Millionaire starts showing at 5pm
3. Gwilym is online and I haven't spoken to him in nearly a month - yes, I'm a bad girlfriend!

Ok, so I last wrote in Jaisalmer. We left there for Jodhpur and spent another day in Jodhpur. Then we headed by a (very safe Indian, not Nepali) night bus to Udaipur. We spent two days in Udaipur then embarked on a two day train journey to Goa.

We arrived at Panaji this morning at 9am. It is Sunday and everything is closed. Including a lot of hostels! Eek! But we rocked up and found somewhere eventually.

I nearly fainted on the bus this morning, but an Indian woman came to my rescue with tiger balm that she rubbed all over my face. SUCH kindness. It was hot, the bus was packed, I was tired and hadn't eaten.

We've spent the best part of the day in Old Goa - the only place that was open.

It is very, very, very hot here!

So yeah, I have lots of stories to write about but must save them for another time. I'm sure I will be back online again shortly.

Love to everyone! x

Tuesday, 3 March 2009

Shoe shopping!!!!

I've come to learn that there are a few people reading this blog that don't know me very well - Hi there, thanks for reading. So I figured I should clear something up... why this site called Eight Months Without Heels.

Well, it's quite simple really:

I love shoes.

And I love high heels.

Teh fact that I set off travelling with just three pairs of shoes (walking boots and two pairs of flip flops) was quite a sacrifice for me. There are somethings I was quite happy to sacrifice, but I do love shoes and leaving them behind was probably the hardest bit.

So yeah, thats all explained now!

So, shoe shopping.

So i broke one pair of flip flops ages ago in Pushkar. These were replaced when I was in Kathmandu with a lovely pair of black flip flops with two pretty little marguerite flowers (ok, they may well be daisies but they are practically the same as marguerite flowers, and my middle name is Marguerite, and so I thought that fate was calling me to buy them because they had my flowers on them!). So yeah, they are pretty, practical and made for me.

I also fell into another shoe shop just the other day inside Jaisalmer Fort. A shop full of pretty, sparkly sequinned bollywood shoes and red hand stitched shoes with pointy toes. I must have tried on a million pairs of the red hand stiched shoes with pointy toes. ALl the hand stitching was unique, and each pair of shoes has a different design. So many to choose from. But I couldn't decide. Then I discovered they were nearly a tenner. I decided not to buy them.

While I was trying on every pair of red stitched shoes with pointy toes, Emma was trying on every pair of s[arkly sequinned Bollywood shoes.

Now these were also very pretty. I had a pair of these before. I bought them from Peacocks and they were bright blue. I still have them at home I think.

But these Bollywood shoes were REAL bollywood shoes, real Bollywood shoes from India, the home of Bollywood.

And there were some pretty red ones.

Some really pretty red ones.

And they were cheaper than the red stitched shoes with pointy toes.

Annd so with a quick exchange of a few rupees, they were mine.

I love shoes.

Our most expensive hotel so far

Most of the hotels we have stayed in so far have cost about 2 pounds each per night. Super cheap. Most of the hotels we reached by rickshaw or autorickshaw.

Last night we didn't travel to our hotel by rickshaw, by autorickshaw, or even by car.

No, last night we travelled to our hotel by camel.

I rode a camel when i was in Dubai last summer. It was not comfortable. In fact the bruises lasted for quite a while. The only reason I agreed to go on a camel again in India was for the hotel it would take us to.

Now I will say that this camel was far more comfortable than that which I rode in Dubai. It was not wholly pleasant, but it was better than my last camel ride.

However, this camel ride was a lot longer. In fact, it took about 2 and 1/2 hours. So by the end of it I was very happy to get off.

Jaisalmer is in the West of Rajasthan in the desert.

I find the barrenness of deserts strangely beautiful and captivating. They are areas that are completely empty of life. I love them.

So, what was so special about this hotel? Why was it so expensive? And why did you have to travel by camel to reach it?

Well, it wasn't a hotel really. Last ngiht we slept under the stars.

The camels took us out into the middle of nowhere. And it was nowhere where we slept.

We watched the sun set which was beautiful and then we watched the stars come out. We sat by our camp fire eatin desert beans, yogurt curry, rice, lentils and chappatis.

I've never seen so many stars ever. When I worked at Ripley's Believe It or Not! I remember discovering the fact that there were more stars in the sky than grains of sand on the earth. As I lay watching the stars whilst lying on a sand dune I could actually begin to believe this. They were just millions.

We slept on bed-type structures under really thick duvets. It wasn't a great nights sleep, but waking up in the middle of the night to see nothing but a billion stars was amazing.

I was woken up by the sunrise. It was more beautful than sun set.

Once the sun was up, we clambered back on the camels (ow) and headed back.

Most definitely my favourite hotel so far, and worth every penny. Maybe next time I'll skip the camel though.

Jaisalmer: another fort, another palace

I'm not going to talk about Jodhpur yet as we are going back there this evening so I may as wel talk about Jodhpur all in one. So here we are bang up to date in Jaisalmer.

The cities in Rajasthan are all very different but at the same time different.

Jaipur is the Pink City, Jodhpur the Blue City, Jaisalmer the Golden City, Udaipur the White City (note, we haven't yet been to Udaipur).

So all the cities have their different defining features.

But they are all the same in that they all have: a fort, a palace, pretty temples. To be honest, it is getting a bit samey in this respect.

Jaisalmer feels very touristy. It is only a small city - not liek Jaipur - and everything is geared up towards the tourists. The fort is incredible and looks amazing as it stands up over the city. At night time it is beautiful with the starry mighnight blue as a back drop to the golden fort.

The palace at Jaisalmer is inside the fort. It isn't very well looked after. In fact the fort is falling itno a state of disrepair as the sewage systems that were built 500 years ago cannot cope with the water demands of the 21st century. As a result the foundations are getting weaker and the whole sandstone fort is beginning to crumble and starting to fall.

It would be a shame if it all crumbled down as it is incredibly majestic and beautiful.

The joys of Women Only Waiting Rooms in India

Travelling by train in India generally means you leave somewhere late in the evening (11pm) and arriving somewhere early in the morning (5am). But this is not a problem as the train stations in India are well kitted out for this sort of thing.

Everywhere in Indian train stations wyou find people asleep. Every inch of the platform, ticket buying area, footbridges even are full of people sleeping or waiting.

But don't worry mum we don't sleep on the platform or the foot brdiges.

We have discovered the greatest thing in Indian train stations - Women Only Waiting Rooms. Inside these have toilets, seats, tables and they are guarded by the Indian equivalent of a bog troll*. These rooms are perfect for us.

For a night train we rock up at about 6.30pm and set up camp. We eat, read/sleep (I read/Emma sleeps), and then before we know it the train is ready and waiting.

When we arrive somewhere on an early train we head straight to the waiting room unfold sleeping bags and have a snooze until it gets to about 8/9am then we go into the city and find our way to a hotel.

Jodhpur is our favourite place as the waiting room is really nice. (God, i sound like a massive geek!)



*bog troll = lady who sells deoderant and chewing gum etc in night club toilets

The 24 hour train journey that became a 32 hour train journey

From Varanasi our next stop was Jodhpur (back in Rajasthan again). This would involve a 24 hour train journey. So we prepared a picnic of bread, jam, crisps, malted milk biscuits and quite happily got on our train at 5 in the evening.

We played cards for a bit.

Read for a bit.

Wrote for a bit.

Ate.

The slept.

We woke up the next morning at about 9 and did the same: played cards and read (we didn't write as not much happened in the night to report about).

At 5pm we pulled into the station. We were fully expecting to be at Jodhpur.

We weren't. We were at Jaipur. We'd already been here in the car with Kishor earlier in our trip.

I pulled out the lonely planet to see how far it was between Jaipur and Jodhpur. 5 and a half hours. What! Oh yes, we had been on the train for 24 hours and we were still more than 5 hours away from our destination. That was mental.

8 hours lateer our train pulled into Jodhpur train station.

It was a long journey.

The River Ganges is really dirty

It isn't the most polluted river in the world, but for a river that all Indians view as sacrasanct it is not looked after.

You see people wash in the river.
\
You see cows wash in the river.

Plastic bags filled with offerings are thrown into the river.

Sewage from the city pumps into the river.

All of this really detracts from the spiritual holiness of the place.

Our boatman told us that he always washed in the river. It was fine he said. Not for tourists, but fine for him.

He also told us that babies, pregnant women, lepers, victims of snake bites and holy men are thrown into the river when they die. They are not cremated, just tied to rocks and left to decompose. sometimes these bodies come loose from the rocks they are tied to and have to be thrown back in again.

Our boatman also told us that the fish from the Ganges is the best in the world. I was shocked at this. Firstly, how do any creatures survive in the river? Secondly, how can the fish be good when it has probably fed off decomposing leper corpses.

This river is dirty.

Front row at Puja (Varanasi)

The previous post is a bit vague and confusing. Varanasi is a strange place. i can't really explain it. But hopefully this post will help explain what i mean when i say that life just goes on.

Puja is ceremony that takes place every evening on the banks of the River Ganges. We were lucky enough to be on a boat to watch the ceremony (a free boat ride courtesy of the hostel we were staying at). In fact, we weren't just on any boat. We were in the boat at the front. In front of about 80 other tourist boats, our boat man sneaked his way into a roped off section at the very front for the best seat on the Ganges.

It was a bit like cars turning up at a drive-in movie (well, like you see in the films anyway), hoards of boats sat watching the Puja ceremony.

The ceremony was peformed by five brahmin holy men under the strict gaze of their guru. The ceremony involved lots of smoke, incense and flowers. The holy men waved around candel sticks that weighed 3kg, wafting the smoke everywhere. Then they would trhow spices and petals to the river. It was very hypnotic. The whole point of this nighlty offering was to give thanks to the River Ganges, Shiva and to wish for World Peace.

BUt more interesting than all of this were the little boys who stood in the shallows of the water.

Money is regularly offered to the river by people as a way to repent sins, they throw their coins into the river.

So while this ceremony was going on, the little boys were stood their with magnets on the end of a string fishing for the coins. It was quite lucrative. Every time they threw their ropes in, they got something back. They stuffed the rupees in their pockets and collected what they could.

Brilliant.

There we were in the holiest place in India, watching a deeply religious ceremony, and there were all these kids sweeping the river for money. Well, i suppose it's better off in their pockets than on the river bed.

Varanasi: stragnely fascinating place

Ok, just to let you know i have a very dodgy 'shift' key on this computer so I can't promise that capitals letters will be particualrly perfect, but I will try. Soz.

Ok, just discovered the 'enter' key on this keyboard is also rubbish... bear/bare (not sure which?) with me.

This computer is rubbish.

24th February 2009

I hated Varanasi when I first arrived. It was hot, busy, full of cow poo and mysterious puddles of water runing to the river. i was also very tired.

As we walked along the river ganges to find our hotel i deliberately chose not to take antyhing in, there was lots going on, but i wasn't in the mood to appreciate anything, i just wanted to be rid of my bags and to have a sleep.

A few hours later we were sat by the Manikarma ghat - one of the two burning ghats in Varanasi. It was strange.

Bodies were carried down to the ghat on stretchers that were decorated with brightly coloured fabrics and flowers. The stretchers were then pushed into the river ganges (india's holiest river), sprinkled with water, and pulled back out again. The flowers were then thrown into the river and the bodies were placed on a pyre, sprinkled with spices and then cremated. In the space of about 40 minutes 4 or 5 cremations were taking place.

It was quite horrible to watch, but was strangely compelling. Horrible becuase it was such a private occasion, and there I was intruding on someone's funeral who I had never met. But compelling just by the nature of the ritual.

There were no women around, only men. The family members who watched the proceedigns were all male, none of them cried. They just seemed to watch over. It was very strange. Fascinating, but very strange.

But i think the strangest bit was the fact that while the cremations were going on, life just went on too. People were washing themselves in ther river, others were washing away their sins by giving offerings, cows were being encoyuraged to have sex, boat men were pouncing on tourists to take boat rides, men were selling mango lollies on sticks to everyone. No one really took notice of the cremations. it was just one of the many things that was just happening. one of the many things that was just a normal part of life on the ghats. i think it was this more than anything that i found very strange.

I mean all of these private actions were taking place - people being cremated, people washing - in the most public of arenas. Yet because there was so much going on, these actions were still very private in spite of everything. I hope this makes sense.

I don't have many pictures of all of this, it just wasn't right to walk along taking photographs.

It's a difficult place to explain without seeing if for yourself. Really difficult.