05.09.2010 0 °C
Eventually Gideon and I made it to India and arrived early one morning in Delhi. We were grinning like idiots on our way from the airport to Main Bazaar where we planned to find accommodation. As we pulled into Main Bazaar we could not believe our eyes, the fronts of the buildings had been pulled down and were lying in the road! The taxi couldn't drop us off where we wanted to go exactly because the road was just covered in rubble so we picked our way to a hotel on foot. Quite a first experience for us!!
We had a long sleep after a couple of lengthy days travel and slept till late. We finally woke up and had a bite to eat. The bit I was dreading because whenever I've been to an Indian restaurant I've not enjoyed any of the food at all. I was really relieved to find a nice dish, Kashmiri Biryani.
The next day we had a stroll around, walking up to Chandni Chowk which was a bit hectic but satisfyingly exotic, and on to the Red Fort which was closed unfortunately in preparation for the Independence Day celebrations.
It was pretty hot and humid in Delhi so we decided to head for the mountains in a bid to cool off a touch. So we embarked on our first train trip!
I had heard from numerous sources about the people in the New Delhi train station trying to misdirect you away from the tourist ticket office and boy was it true. They will say anything to get hold of your money, incredible. But we ignored everyone and made our way upstairs where we were confronted with the ticketing/reservation system. At first it looked really scary but it does actually work well and is reasonably efficient, much easier than trying to get in a non tourist queue with everyone queue jumping. Anyway, we had to get more expensive seats on the train to Kalka as the cheapies were sold out and what an excellent experience! As we sat down we realised that we had forgotten to get some drinks and snacks for the trip, silly us. But we need not have worried.
A man came round handing out newspapers. Ooh, thank you kindly! Then we were given a litre of mineral water each. Ah, cheers mate. Then everyone was given a rose, er- thanks very much! We were then served tea and coffee with biscuits and sweets. Next came a bowl of cornflakes. Then we had a croissant. Following on from that we received 2 vegetable cutlets. And just in case we were still hungry we received a banana each and a fruit juice (read syrup) to wash it down with. Can't grumble about the service!
We arrived in Kalka a touch late and had to run for our train to Shimla which was the narrow gauge Himalayan Queen. This is a nice little trip up the mountain with some very tight turns, pretty scenery and about 102 tunnels (the people in the carriage in front of ours cheered through every tunnel and bizarrely it somehow remained amusing to hear right to the last tunnel!). We arrived quite late as the ground under the track was washed away at one point so they had to effect some repairs and the driver crawled over the filled section very slowly which was just as well because there was a very noticeable dip in the track. When we arrived at Shimla we were greeted by a lot of hassle but we made our own way and found a hotel. We took the lift in the hotel up 10 floors and found our way to The Mall and had a walk around. It was lovely at night with cool temperatures and well thought out lighting. We went for a bite to eat and a couple of beers which was a jolly nice conclusion to the day.
The next day we explored a bit and decided we both quite liked Shimla, especially the fact that the Mall is pedestrianised and that smoking, littering and spitting are banned in the core of the mall. This is particularly helpful as I have been trying to stop spitting in public for years now so aided me in my efforts. Oh sorry, I meant smoking. I've managed to last a whole month without a cigarette now.
Anyway, we tried to buy bus tickets to Dharamsala but could not because the road was closed so we had to stay another day in Shimla. This is due to the major flooding that killed so manay people in Ladakh aroud Leh. We headed off to look for the Hanuman temple with all of its monkeys. We took our brollies with us to protect ourselves as a stick is recommended and to Gideon’s enduring amusement sticks are available for hire or purchase in the vicinity of the temple!! I hate monkeys and they are really, really creep and scary so I was hugely relieved to abandon the expedition. A big monkey was walking along the road and I got a bit terrified actually and accidentally opened my brolly in its face. I was shaking and really frightened, wondering which side of the brolly he would appear round or would he just tear straight through it with teeth and claws?! The nasty monkey didn't even seem to notice me! Git. That evening there were loads of monkeys running around on the roof of our hotel making a racket on the corrigated tin roof so we made sure our windows were firmly closed!
The next day we took a bus to Dharamsala, it wasn't a bad bus but where we were sat at the back it was incredibly bouncy and our bums did leave the seats completely a few times but the bouncing stopped the ache that you get when you sit in one position for too long so I was pleased! Once we arrived in Dharamsala the next morning we caught a taxi up to Mcleod Ganj which is a really nice, peaceful place. We found a place to stay and headed out for a walk. There is a lovely, highly decorated and very colourful temple there with a load of prayer wheels around it that we really liked. Further down we encountered the markets selling Tibetan and Kashmiri wares. Fab shopping! I ended up buying a singing bowl, a rug, a shawl and a bronze of the elephant god Ganesh.
The Tibetan food by the way, very nice. I have to recommend momos and chow chow, lovely sauce.
The next day we were up early and strolling around to the temple where the Dalai Lama conducts his business. I hadn't realised he was going to put in an appearance and was surprised to see him. He looks like a nice chap and everyone seemed to be very pleased to see him. In fact it was very moving to see people’s sincere reactions. Once he had gone we had a look around the temple but to be honest it was very tacky and not up to much. Hope his home is a bit better. We then had a stroll down in that direction but ended up getting lost.
That night we left for Manali on a rickety old bus and arrived at 4am. Strangely as we walked through the town we were followed by a load of dogs. A few would escort us then another couple seemed to take over. Really odd. But it worked in our favour because our last escorts started barking at some other dogs and woke up a fellow in a hotel and we were able to get a room for the night/morning! We later headed out for a stroll and visited a tiny shrine near the Beas River where we saw and smelt a load of weed growing wild. We then visited the Hadimba Temple which was lovely. In its grounds was a lady with a gorgeous, so cute you could cry, albino, angora rabbit that you could cuddle and photo for a price and a gent with a yak. So the bunny got hugged and then we headed off to the nearby museum.
The next day we strolled up to Vashisht which is a few km out of Manali and is well worth the trip. Again I revelled in some shopping; this time cobra shaped bronze door handles and cheesy lightshades, a couple of pictures and a small trumpet! There are some gorgeous temples there too that we visited, I really like the style of them and it was great to be able to visit them.
The following day we were up early and on a very cheap tour to Rohtang Lah (cheap - fools that we are!). We were supposed to stop at various sights but to be honest it wasn't that good. The waterfall we stopped at for 30 minutes was bit rubbish and we had passed a load on the way up that were much nicer. Then we stopped for lunch at about 11 am but at least there was a temple to see. Then we carried on up an increasingly knackered road to the pass. It took forever to get anywhere as it was single lane traffic in many places and the road was in a horrible state which was a bit alarming because there were some pretty big drops off the side of the road! It was kind of nice when we entered cloud level because you couldn't see where the edges were so much!
Anyway, we got to the pass but we were in thick cloud so we could see bugger all.
We went for a stroll and got soaked and headed back to the minibus for the lengthy trip home. But although the day was bit rubbish, we both managed to enjoy it a huge amount, it was a bit of an adventure. When we got back to Manali we went for a walk round the little national park that they have in the town. After we headed off for dinner and tried Gyokok which is a pretty mad Tibetan dish that appeared at our table alight and contained all sorts of chicken dishes with veg and an omelette on top served in what looked like an oil lamp. Quite nice overall with one particularly stunning chicken dish.
The next day we were due to head off to Solang Nullah to do some zorbing but the weather was poor so it was cancelled. Instead we lolled about a bit and then caught a night bus to Delhi.
We arrived near Janpath next morning and dumped our backpacks at the New Delhi train station. We then headed off to the All American Dinner in the hope of finding a beef burger or steak but we were very disappointed with the place in general, particularly when it transpired that all of the burgers were chicken. We then walked to the India Gate and up to Connaught Place. From there we realised that we were running out of time so we caught a tuk tuk to the train station but we somehow managed to find the calmest, most patient auto rickshaw driver in Delhi. But happily we managed to get to our train on time and headed off to Varanasi in the sleeper car.
We arrived the next morning and headed to the Dasawamedh Ghat and jumped on a boat for an hour's rowing up and down the ghats on the Ganges. They were quite interesting and definitely worth a look.
A quick stop for souvenir shopping followed by a big breakfast and a trip to Sarnath which has a few temples and a deer park. There are big slabs of granite there with script in various different Asian texts which were interesting to see and really quite lovely.
We then caught a sleeper train to Khujuraho which is a brilliant place. Early the next morning we were walking around a complex of temples which were just smothered in carvings, some of it a bit sexy, they are known as the erotic temples. Personally I think they should have the word "contortionist" somewhere in their name. The amount of work that went into their decoration is incredible, I couldn't tell you how many man hours must have gone into it but it would have been very considerable.
We then had a stroll around the village where a local lad showed us the divisions between the areas that the different castes live in. Next we caught an auto rickshaw to the southern temples then on to a waterfall which was quite something. Then yet more souvenir shopping and a very nice dinner rounded off a most excellent day. (Despite the many beetles that flew into us over dinner!!).
The next morning we caught a bus to Agra which took the whole day so we got in when it was dark, although there are great views of the Taj Mahal from the roof of the hotel where we stayed we couldn't see anything! But I took a photo with a 30 second exposure and caught a sneak preview!
The next morning we visited the Taj Mahal and it really is a wonderful place, very, very pretty indeed, we both loved it. Even the surrounding gates and gardens are quite lovely so we spent a good few hours there admiring the beauty of the place.
We then splurged on a taxi ride back to Delhi rather than get on the wait list for the train. We picked up our backpacks from the train station and headed up to our hotel near the airport.
The next day we took a flight to Goa and caught a taxi to Colva. It is very green in Goa and although very humid, it's not too, too hot so more comfortable than the plains. The next day was dedicated to souvenir shopping and strolling around.
The following day we were due to leave but I was feeling really rough and ended up spending the day in bed feeling sorry for myself and aching all over. However the next day I was back on my feet and we left for Anjuna where the stallholders are really aggressive and will physically drag you to their stalls!
Then we headed off to Madgaon. We were going to go to Hampi the next day but found that it was too much of a tight schedule so we abandoned that plan. Instead we spent a day in Benaulim and then moved down the road to Varca for three nights in a 3 1/2 star hotel. The room was lovely but to be honest I didn't enjoy our stay much because the food was terrible and my plans to lie by the pool were completely ruined by being stared at all of the time and having people sneakily take photos of us. In the end we had to resort to sunbathing on our balcony where we could not be seen by anyone. I was really fed up with being under siege in India by this point and the people there did nothing to improve matters. For this reason I have been looking forwards to leaving for the last week.
Finally Gideon left and I stayed in Colva for the night. Now I am off to Australia so will get my flight to Delhi tonight and fly to Sydney tomorrow. India had a lot of good points but I am loath to stay for the remainder of my visa, it's not a country I am terribly keen to visit again, just because of the hassle.
Well, that's all for now.