December 16, 2012  •  2 Comments

Namaste from Nepal! 

The journey from India was a bone rattler on a public bus designed for the tiny frames of Nepalese people. It was 8 hours of having my knees jammed against the seat in front of me the only saving grace was the incredible scenery along the way as the potholed road put my back out of shape. As the bus got closer to Kathmandu the tarmac on the roads gradually disappeared and the bus wound its way up a mountain on an unpaved road until we came out on top and to much surprise, Kathmandu! 
Kathmandu is surrounded by the Himalayas and the first thing which hits you is the pollution and the dust which gets trapped in the valley, I haven't stopped coughing since I arrived. I took a taxi with some fellow travellers I had befriended from the bus station to the hostel and the driver and his mate tried every trick in the book to try and convince us that our hostel had closed so that we would stay at a hotel where they would earn commission. They even went as far as getting someone to meet us where the taxi dropped us off to tell us the hostel was closed. I then asked a local who told us that the hostel was open and in the adjacent block!
First port of call in Kathmandu was the eagerly anticipated steak after being beefless in India for a whole month. It probably wasn't as good as I thought it was but you could have put any part of the cow on a plate in front of me and it would have been delicious.
The first 2 days in Kathmandu were spent in the shops of Kathmandu hunting for trekking gear. Just about any piece of North Face, Columbia or Mammot gear can be found in Kathmandu and its dirt cheap as its all fake or factory duds. I brought a pair of boots, trousers, fleece, hats, glove and down jacket for around 100 big ones. I also secured a porter and my flights to Lukla which many of you will know from the recent National Geographic programme as the world's most dangerous airport. Boarding the aircraft at 8am the pilot had already started one of the engines before we were all in! There was no where to keep your hand baggage so your baggage is stowed on your lap making you feel like you are in for a parachute jump rather than a passenger flight . There is no safety briefing and the only chores of the stewardess are the handing out of sweets and opening and closing of the door. In case of an emergency the pilots were stuffed as the aisle was blocked by cases of San Miguel stacked up high enough to impede their exit. Landing at Lukla the pilot has one choice, he has to land, if he messes it up the plane goes into the village which is spread out on both sides of the runway or the planes slams into the mountain. Because of this they only land and take-off in one direction and also because the runway is on a slope! It's only 500 metres long so the plane has to land uphill and take off down hill!  As the plane lands uphill it comes to the top swings around and within 30 seconds you are out. The pilot leaves one engine running while everyone disembarks, departing passengers board and within 5 minutes it's off again! Too be honest the landing was no worse than a landing in Guernsey.... 
Lukla is a small village nestled in the shadow of the Himalayas. As soon as I was off the plane I fell in love with the place. The first day of walking takes you along a ridge of hills overlooking the valley and surrounding snow capped peaks. The trails are a busy highway of trekkers, cows, yaks, donkeys and porters shifting unbelievable amounts of goods up and down the mountains. My porter for the journey was Ramus who like most Nepali in their mid twenties looks like a teenager. I'm pretty sure I pissed him off on the first day after too much walking. He treated me as his boss which got a little embarrassing at times especially when I gave him a Mars Bar and he unwrapped it and passed it back to me thinking I wanted him to unwrap my chocolate bar for me. I quickly discovered that Ramus was a bit of a drunk and even went as far as telling him off for drinking in the day time as did my trekking partner who's porter had become Ramus's drinking buddy. It sounds really grown up of me but you really don't want to be drinking alcohol this high up and I didn't pay for the responsibility of looking after a caned porter. Ramus was very apologetic to me and then confessed that he can't stop drinking, he wants to quit but he doesn't know how. If this was back at home I would probably have some solutions for him but to be honest, doing what he does for a living I would hit the bottle too. The porters and local Sherpa people are superhuman and they keep the mountain economy flowing by hauling ridiculous sized cargo between the mountain villages. Everything required by the villages between Lukla and Everest are transported by Sherpas and some of the loads exceed the weight of the person carrying. A guide told us that some Sherpas can take weights of 100kg on their backs. My personal favourite was a guy carrying 10 sheets of 1/2 inch plywood pannelling the size of doors! Distances between the villages aren't more than a few hours but what makes this back breaking for the Sherpa people (and us trekkers!) is throughout the 60 or so hours to the base camp and back there is only 5 hours or so of flat terrain, it really is up and down. 
The beauty of this hike is there are facilities all the way to Everest so you don't necessarily need to plan your days walking, you just walk until you are too tired or you find a nice village to stop for the night. The trekking itself starts off fairly comfortable but as you get higher signs of altitude sickness kick in due to the lack of oxygen in the air.  Most notable were the headaches akin to a red wine hangover, loss of appetite (even for me!), nausea and loss of sleep. For me the latter made things rather tough, closer to Everest I didn't sleep for 3 nights which combined with the walking in the day and the loss of appetite meant I was pretty zonked. As you climb above 5000m you experience loss of breath which makes walking painfully slow, a walk which would take 5 minutes at sea level would take 30 minutes and I needed to stop every 10 paces to get my breath back. As well as the scenery there are many local points of interest along the trail in particular a monastery in the village of Tengboche where I sat in the corner at 7AM as a group of 3 monks carried out their morning mantras as well as holding long periods of silence broken only by the sipping of their tea. Closer to Everest you come across memorials to climbers who lost their lives on Everest. During my time in the mountains I was reading Jon Krakauer's "Into Thin Air" which is a true story of the disastrous 1996 climb of Everest.  As I got closer to Everest I began to realise from the memorials that most of the charachters in the book die... kinda ruined it for me. 
The nights were spent in teahouses which are no more than wooden lodges with rooms and a dining room with a heated stove in the middle which becomes the social area in the evenings. Everyone huddles around the stove which is fueled by wood in the lower valley and as you get higher up, dried out yak shit! (I'll leave you to come up with the puns). I managed to keep surprisingly warm through the use of 3 pairs of socks, 2 beanie hats, 2 pairs of trousers, a t shirt, fleece, hoody, down jack and a rain coat. On really cold nights this was also my sleeping attire! There is no heating in any of the rooms so you layer up and freeze to death until you have trapped enough warmth in your sleeping bag to start taking the layers off. Most nights the outside temperature was around -15/-20c with the thermometers inside the lodges showing anything between zero and -7c. Rising in the morning is unpleasant, your water bottle is frozen and the iced up squat toilets are a death trap and best avoided unless your name is Amy Williams.The rooms were dirt cheap and I even managed to beat my personal best by paying just 70p for a room! I'm still confused with the economics of these lodges as it cost twice more for a roll of bog paper than it did for my room.....
On Day.8, prior to leaving for the Everest Base Camp I trekked to the top of Kala Pattar a whopping 5550metres above sea level, the highest point I have ever reached and by the far the harshest environment I have been in. The wind was nail biting cold and the trek up was a mission as my body failed to get enough oxygen to keep me breathing properly. I only managed 5 minutes at the top of Kala Pattar which was a shame as the view which overlooked Everest and its neighbouring peaks could have been savored for hours.
The following day I made the trip to the Everest Base Camp which was made slightly easier due to my trek up Kala Pattar some 500metres higher than base camp. I took Ramus with me to act as a guide and to keep him off the sauce. The climbing season is in May so there was not a whole lot at the camp other than a pile of rocks covered with prayer flags and various scribbles from other trekkers who had made the trek. The camp is on a moving glacier surrounded by small frozen ponds entrenched in the moving ice and it has to be moved every year as the glacier moves further down the valley. Funnily enough you can't see Everest from the camp but the surrounding mountains were stunning in the early morning light. Being there for just an hour you can hear the ice cracking underneath and witness avalanches which you can feel through your feet! 
Being remote doesn't stop your phone from working. I saw two old Sherpa men laughing at the Gangnam style video on their phone and one night of sleep was interrupted by a call on my mobile from Dell Computers who were wondering whether I was happy with the laptop I purchased last December. That woke up a few people in the lodge and got a good laugh the next morning.
I can highly recommend the Everest trek, easily one of the best experiences of my life. So what now?  My clothes have now been cleaned and I am now having regular showers after 12 days without - I'm not sure what I'm more proud of, trekking to Everest or not showering for all that time..... I'm off to Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia on Thursday and will be spending Christmas with good company in a small town called Melaka. I have just been to the Myanmar Embassy here in Kathmandu to arrange a visa for my next stop after Malaysia. After Myanmar who knows......
I hope you all have a good christmas and new year!

India part.2

November 29, 2012  •  Leave a Comment

For the week following my previous blog the whole of India was celebrating the Hindu festival of Diwali. They celebrate it like we would christmas and the streets were scattered with lit candles and kids setting off fireworks.. The Indians love noise and for the entire week they were letting off fireworks and bangers some which sounded more like a bomb going off than a banger! It wasn't restricted to the evening either, 730 in the morning and it all starts again. I spent the main evening of the festival in the city of Udapur where they filmed the James Bond movie Octopussy. I sat at a rooftop restaurant watching the Indians make our bonfire night look pathetic! Just about every rule in the firework code gets broken. I saw a small child let a firework off in their hand, kids returning to them after they had been lit and people standing a metre away from a rocket as it goes off. The son of the guesthouse owner was 8 and was walking around with a lit splint leaning over a box of rockets. Later in the evening he was lighting rockets and throwing sparklers across the rooftops at the other kids! Us travellers got involved, with the festivities, how could you resist a pack of 4 fireworks for 20p! We had a huge firework which cost £6 had 50 seperate munitions and lasted almost 3 minutes!  


The city of Jaisalmer is close to the Pakistan border and is where you can find one of India's most stunning forts. Its similar to St Malo or Dubrovnik and inside the walls there are a myriad of narrow streets to explore, except, this is India and you cant get a moments peace without being hassled by a merchant trying to flog you tat and shouting "I give you 99% discount" and "give me one chance to rip you off". I have found walking around the streets in India draining as you are constantly on your guard for obstacles such as the motorbikes and tuk-tuks which try and run you over (I've been bashed once already), and then there are the cows which I have become deeply suspicious of after one with massive horns charged me. The only way to get peace and quiet is to go to a rooftop cafe which has been a god send - I doubt I would have survived without having those sanctuaries of peace and sanity. On my final night in Jaisalamer I sat drinking with a friend and noticed the chef walking passed with a nice white shirt. Further scrutiny showed that this was the shirt with horrible dirt marks which I had chucked out in the morning. The chef had been through my rubbish and found my shirt! We had a good laugh at this and so did the other hotel staff as the chef told them that a friend had given it to him.


The train and bus journeys always produce something for the blog.  One journey, I had booked a train ticket 5 days in advance to Jodhpur only to be put on the waiting list. I was first on the list and when I turned up at the station the arrogant guard after spending 5 minutes on the phone to his friend ignoring my query, told me they didn't have any seats. I was told to get in cattle class and sit where I could. I wouldn't have minded this so much if it wasn't for it being a night journey. Not for the first time I walked along the platform muttering the words "fuck India" before finding a horribly uncomfortable chair and sitting upright for 6 hours with my bag strapped to my chest in case anyone got any bright ideas if I fell asleep. Theft does happen in fact I lost my MP3 player on a train and i'm pretty sure someone took it as I fell asleep with it on my bed. I also heard of someone just last week who had their bag full of valuables stolen while they were using it as a pillow to sleep on the train!  The train to Jodhpur was more like a train to alcatraz, bodies everywhere, you couldn't even see the floor and to make matters worse the train was travelling through the desert so the carriage became full of the dust as there are no windows!


Another horrible journey was a night trip via bus enduring 8 hours sat upright on a bus going over horrendous pot holed roads and thats when we were lucky enough to have a road! Someone warned me not to do a particular journey by bus and I could never remember which one it was, well it was the one I took!


Heading to Ranthambore National Park I was in a berth on the train with an Indian family of 7. We quickly got chatting and I got quizzed on my marital status including who and when i'm going to marry! Also got put on a spot by the teenage lad who asked me not only what my salary was but also how much I have in the bank account. These are routine questions asked and they don't see it as prying. They insisted on sharing their dinner with me all made by this woman who was an absolute goddess in the kitchen - some of the best food i've had in India. Then came the clean up, everything including 3 tupperware boxes went out the window. They saw my reaction which was half laughing and half "are you serious?!" They encouraged me to chuck out a tub of rubbish. Anyone who knows me will know that I hate littering but I couldn't disappoint so I littered and they christened me an Indian. It reminds me of a driver I had in Jaisalmer, we saw the car in front chuck a whole bag of rubbish out of the window and the driver put his hands in the air and shouted patriotically "I love India"!! They really don't mind living in their own shit.


Ranthambore is the home of around 50 tigers. Queuing up for a safari ticket was something else, it was like John Lennon had come back from the dead and tickets for the Beatles reform gig were going on sale, it was absolute mayhem. There was around 200 people in a queue (I use the word queue loosely) and no one had any idea what was going on. Arguments broke out, people were jumping the queue, westerners were looking at each other gobsmacked and all of this for a 3 hour drive where you only have a 20% chance of seeing a tiger. There was a single space available and after 2 and a half hours in the riot I was plucked out and told I had a seat...ahhhh the benefits of travelling solo! I clutched my ticket like it was gold dust and to round off a day of luck I saw a tiger in the wild! Unknown to the occupants of our hotel that night, a tiger had come out of the park and was wondering the streets. The owner knew about this but didn't tell us for a good reason, this particular tiger had already killed 15 people!


From Ranthambore I went to the holy city of Pushkar for the annual camel festival and as you would expect, mayhem! Supposedly they have  20,000-50,000 camels, figures vary but all I can say thats a shit load of camels and surprisngly not as smelly as expected but then again my nose has become accustomed to bad smells since I arrived in India. They had camel racing which involved 5 camels bursting in to a small arena with small kids riding them, one camel went in to the crowd, the other ran out of the stadium and the other 3 camels just ran around in no particular direction and somehow there was a winner! That's pretty typical of India, even the camels have no idea what the hell's going on.  Other events included the camel decoration competition where they decorated camels and judges voted on which of the whored up beasts they preferred. Unfortunately I left the day before the moustache growing competition, the turban tying contest and the see how many people can get on a camel challenge.


The Taj Mahal was every bit impressive as you would imagine. Last year they had on average 17,000 people visit the Taj every day so you are sharing the place with a lot of people. Everyone is surprised that the Taj is in the middle of a city (Agra) as opposed to the middle of nowhere like the photos would have you believe. The small streets of Agra were a noisy affair, walls of speakers were dotted around the place blasting out hindi music. At one point there was small parade of towed floats which came to an abrupt halt when they realised their floats were too high to get under the telephone wires hanging across the street!  At the Taj I met two English girls and fellow beer drinkers - it had been almost a month and a half since I have socialised with Brits and I forgot what a crude bunch we are! Anyway, they don't make it easy to drink in India, our waiter at the Taj hotel gave us a discerning look when we ordered our second round and by the time the third round came he had a look on his face which said "this is going to get out of hand"!  We gave him a big tip to encourage the serving of alcohol to other travellers. Pushkar was dry apart from two bars who serve beer and deliver it to your table like a drug dealer would hand over drugs.


The following day we headed off for an afternoon at the Kaladeo Ghana National Park which is one of the top bird sanctuaries in the world. We hired some bicycles and set off to watch an incredible amount of bird life with just the noise of the path, our creaking bikes and the occasional mob of Indians making a racket and scaring off the birds. We saw antelope and jackals and the most elusive creature in the park, the Jungle Cat which looks like a supersize domestic cat. The naturalists back at the park office said that it was a jackal but I had a photo of both creatures and one is clearly a cat and the other dog. Very glad that we didn't hire one of these "experts" if they can't tell the difference between a cat and a dog.


The city of Varanasi is the most chaotic unforgiving place I think I have ever been. Hassling is constant and you cannot be left alone for 2 minutes. I've definitely become more rude since i've been in India and I have slowly realised that being rude is the only way of getting rid of them! The place is mind blowing and my visit was timed with another huge celebration in the Hindu calendar. Varanasi is one of the most holiest places in the Hindu religion and is where many devote hindus come to cremate their loved ones.  I spent an afternoon watching bodies being burned on the banks of the River Ganges. It is utterly surreal watching the whole process. The bodies in their decorated body bags are dipped in the heavily polluted waters of the Ganges. After dipping and drying they are put on a fire and cremated in front of your very eyes. It's a little undignified, the bodies are queued up by the river bank laying in the mud which includes goodness knows what else, the whole place is full of cows, goats and dogs and you have the public watching what is supposed to be a very private moment for the families. Oh and I was standing there having a cup of tea while I was watching all of this! I met up with the English lasses again and we spent some time in a lassi shop watching funeral processions marching down the small alleyway with a team of men holding up the body bag on wooden splints and chanting like they were soldiers. The morning of my departure I decided to do one last boat ride on the Ganges and i'm glad I did. There were thousands of people on the ghats (the steps leading to the river) bathing in the Ganges carrying out their rituals and supposedly washing away a lifetime of sins. Some were drinking the water which I have been told will kill a forigner because it is so heavily polluted. It was a site of colour, sound and was one of the most amazing sites I have ever seen. My boatman got me right in front of the action and I was alone in front of hundreds of people floating on my boat snapping away in the most surreal light. No one seemed to notice me as they were so immersed in their spiritual cleansing. 


Foodwise, the highlight food was a South Indian Dosa which is like a huge crispy pancake with a masala filling and various dahls/dips. We ate at a local restaurant with the locals who kept on peeking at our eating habits. If you haven't seen an Indian eat, they pick up their rice and curry with their right hand, make a ball and cram it in. The bill for our 3 meals and a drink each came to exactly 2 quid!


India has been a real test of charachter.  There are times where I have just felt like banging my head against a brick wall because its such a pain getting things done. The other day it took me an hour to post a parcel because they had to have the parcel wrapped in a cotton sheet which had to be sewed on then dabbed with melted wax to stop the stitchings from coming undone! Then they needed a photocopy of my passport so I had to find a photocopying machine as the post office doesn't have one and to top off an hour of frustration I got in to an argument with the man behind the counter for being rude towards me. The trains are great when you can get on the darn things - booking them has been straight forward so long as booked 2 weeks in advance! Another challenge is trying not to get ripped off and in some towns its unavoidable. Everyone is out to make money from you and I have lost my patience with people even telling one extremely persistent tout where he can put his tuk-tuk to which he responded with a wagging finger "mind your language mister". India brings out a side of your personality which doesn't come out anywhere else in the world!   Its hard to explain what its like here, everyone raved to me how mad the place is but until you have been here you just can't appreciate it, its an assault on the senses, the smells, the sounds and the sights, its overload and its in your face. I know its cliche but its an experience and it makes you appreciate just how civilised we are! (no offence to Indian readers) 


I am now in Kathmandu in Nepal after almost 20 hours on trains and horrendous buses. One of the trains got delayed by 2 hours in transit as people were pulling the emergency chain so that they could get off where the train wasn't stopping. If you are caught doing this you get a 2000rupee fine and six months in prison! HARSH! I arrived at the border at 10pm and after getting my passport stamped out of India I walked down a dark eerie street all by myself. When I got to the Nepal side I had to have my Nepali visa processed by the guard who unfortunately had shut the office for the night! So I had to knock on the office door and get him out of bed!


I am now looking for trekking partners as I shall be starting the 2 week return trek to the Everest base camp which involves a flight to the most dangerous airport in the world, Lukla. I do question my sanity sometimes, its freezing cold here and its supposed to get down to -20 at night in the mountains. One for the biography assuming I survive.


India part.1

November 08, 2012  •  1 Comment


Arrival in to Delhi was mind boggling. After breezing through a surprisingly efficient airport I hit the city. The first thing you notice is the number of people by the roadside and lots of beggars wading there way through traffic including small children, some carrying babies who press their faces up against the windows of the taxi. I was dropped off at a hostel which was unfortunately fully booked as was the next which made me easy prey for the autorickshaw drivers and touts to rip me off. I ended up in the travellers ghetto, Paraghanj and realised why the hostels were full. That evening was a religous festival and Delhi was in full swing. It was carnage, the streets were packed full of people, music blaring out, light shows, fireworks going off, horns blaring and then the carnival started. For almost 4 hours a parade of drummers, brass bands and floats dragged along by tractors and rickshaws drove down the street with all sorts of odd characters prancing around on top. Later in the evening some youths started doing donuts on their bikes in the middle of a crowd and some others were being chased by police who were whacking them with a cane. One kid got caught and started being lippy with the policeman who proceeded to slap him in the face. The look on the kids face was one of surprise and he tried to speak but was abruptly cut short by the policeman's palm against his cheek! The slapping continued for about 10 seconds before the kid got the message. Now that's what I call policing!!


By day Delhi has a thick smog, its filthy, noisy and smelly, for those of you who have been to any Asian city such as Bangkok, think of the chaos there, double it and you have Delhi. It is unreal how chaotic the place is and you are constantly people watching. To emphasize how dirty the city is, my grey t-shirt which I wore for a day had massive brown patches when I took it off in the evening. My legs which I thought had tanned nicely after a few days in India were in fact filthy and yes I went 2 days without showering but seriously there is no point trying to be clean!


I managed to get a train out of Delhi to the capital of Rajahastan, Jaipur. The process is unbelievably frustrating as you have to fill out a form at the railway station, give all your personal details then wait in a queue for an hour and a half. Unfortunately Delhi belly struck on the train of all places. I was expecting to get it but of all places why why why did it have to be the train?! So that was 5 hours of hell including several trips to use the squatter toilet which is no easy task on a moving train.


The following 48 hours were pretty rough but thanks to Imodium I was under control and eventually got my appetite back. Jaipur is again chaos but for a typical street scene you have the addition of cows, donkeys, pigs, camels and goats. Lets not forget the piles of rubbish for the cows and pigs to wade through, the smell of ammonia and crap everywhere and there you have it, India, Incredible India! Probably haven’t sold it to you, no? Despite all of the above, the place is fascinating, not exactly a destination for honeymooners but for someone who wants an authentic experience, to see some crazy stuff and to see just how differently other people live, I can’t think of anywhere better. The poverty here has an effect on everyone no matter how thick skinned you think you are. Its all around, shanty towns, beggars, people picking through rubbish, I’ve never seen it on such a huge scale.


Most of the people are friendly although I have encountered some hostilities with the autorickshaw drivers who are just awful. They are renown all over Asia for being swines but here they are something else and I have lost my temper with several of them. The bicycle rickshaws are heroes, how they can cart my arse around all day I will never know. They always get a tip from me especially when they have to get out and push the bike up the hill!  I have had my photo taken with loads of Indian men, one said I looked like Andrew Flintoff so i'm not sure whether they are all mistaking me for him. A rather camp young man started walking along with me in the train station, I feigned interest in talking to him and he eventually walked away then came back. I was awaiting a lecture on politeness as I was a little abrupt but instead he asked me one queston which he really wanted an answer to.... "back in the UK, I hear there are lots of gay people?"  ??!?!  Later that evening I read my Lonely Planet which states that it is very unusual in India to be approaching your thirties and not be married. So I can only assume that all the looks i've had from men both in India and Sri Lanka are due to their assumption that a single man travelling alone is gay!  They are quite forward people and have no problem asking what your salary is, one man asking me last night what age I first started having sex!! Again the train and bus journeys have always been a great opportunity to talk to the locals. I had another apple offered to me and rather than make a scene as I did when someone offered an apple on the train to me in Sri Lanka, I accepted it. Well, that was his wife's apple and she wasn't best pleased!! Yesterday the bus stopped for a toilet break and the man next to me said "toilet break, come, let's go" I said I didn't need to go and he looked at me as if I just said that us westerners don't go to the toilet. His response was priceless "what?! you don't go toilet, but you should go and see if it come out"..... Thanks Raj, I'm quite familiar with the process!!! 

I visited a Temple full of monkeys, 100s of them roam free causing mischief and occassionally having a go at the tourists. This was of course nothing compared with the Karni Mata Temple aka the Rat Temple. From the outside its just like any other temple but inside live over 20,000 rats. It has to be the most "out there" attraction which I have ever seen. You walk in bare foot (its a temple after all) and the first thing you see is a huge vat of milk with a hundred or so rats sipping away climbing on top of each other to get to the milk. If you spot one of the few albino rats or a rat scurries across your feet it bodes well for your future. What makes it more crazy is people come to the temple to worship the rats and pilgrims travel from far and wide each year to do so. It really is bonkers! 

I went on a came safari and spent the night in the desert. Its quite comfortable at first but after a while your arse goes numb. My camel had an itch so kept on lifting his back leg, having a scratch then slamming it down to the floor. Then I got sick again. Everyone who I have met has been ill so the guesthouses are more like a doctors waiting room. An ozzy guy I met was just about to have a massage when his masseuse sneezed into his hand and wiped his nose on his hand. His mate had to have emergency root canal surgery and just before doing so, his dentist handled money and didn't change his gloves before operating. I had a rickshaw man trying to shake my hand with his left hand and we all know what Indians do with that! The Temple of the Rats had nowhere to wash your feet after walking around barefoot treading in rat waste, not even a puddle of water!  I brought a huge poppadom and asked the sellers if they could take my photo with it, they misunderstood and thought I wanted a photo of them and the poppadom, so they put both of their hands on it and posed for a photo! I'm currently sporting a new haircut courtesy of India's answer to Edward Scissorhands, he's done a great job but I didn't appreciate having my face and ears cleaned with a dirty rag or the belch in my face.


So, India so far....great if you are budget conscious, it is exceptionally cheap and half the time you can't eat or venture far from a toilet which makes it easy to save the pennies. This makes it great for weight loss ladies. Honestly i'm see-sawing between liking it and loathing it. I don't think I have ever been somewhere which has provided such a roller coaster of emotions, yesterday I experienced, anger, sadness, laughter and finally happiness when I made it to my guesthouse and found the rooftop restaurant overlooking the stunning Jaisalmer Fort. A lot of the other travelers I have seen really look like they have spent too much time here and I can see why - its hard work but the sights have been worth it and it's one hell of an experience.





Sri Lanka part.2

October 27, 2012  •  Leave a Comment

My final 10 days in Sri Lanka have involved more manic bus journeys. Most notably the moshpit that is the Dambulla to Anuradhapura bus. I spent most of the 3 hour journey standing up with my hand over two massive petruding bolts waiting to penetrate my skull as soon as the bus crashed. The likelihood of this was high seeing as the driver was texting for most of the journey while bombing it down the road at over 90mph. We stopped for 10 minutes to allow what can only be described as a freak show to board. An old man came on and started talking away with his eyes closed, when he finished speaking he opened his eyelids to reveal two mangled eyes... everyone on the bus dug into their pockets for this guy. The next person to board didn't get as much sympathy, she was an elderly woman who started singing away showing everyone her hands which had been deformed. I managed to get a seat next to the bus driver for the rest of the journey, well, I say a seat, this was a flat area next to the driver where I had to sit cross legged with a windscreen for me to go through (seatbelts in Sri Lanka? you got to be kidding!). It was uncomfortable but I got a good view of the near misses and the bus driver texting. It seems the buses are a free-for-all for anyone who wants to make a bit of cash. I saw one guy selling a bit of card with multiplication tables (he sold a few!) then you have people all dressed up with their drums and tambourines who start signing away and banging the hell out of their instruments for an hour - just what you need on a 3 hour bus journey. 

Yesterday's journey back to Colombo I was sitting on the back seat looking down the aisle. A man boarded from the front, I couldn't work out what was wrong with him but he wasn't walking. He was dragging himself along the floor on his bum, his legs were around his head and he was using his hands which had sandals on them as feet! It was the most bizarre sight as this man made his way slowly down the aisle getting closer and closer to me, it was like something out of a horror movie. For those of you who like Family Guy, it reminded me of old Herbert's dog, Jesse. 
I managed to get my visa for India in Colombo. It was a 19 hour round trip from Kandy in the centre of the island and my first taste of Indian beaurocracy. I had applied for it 2 weeks ago and it somehow took them 8 hours to put a sticker in my passport. Everyone in the waiting room was aware how far I had travelled and how long I had waited and I got a round of applause as my name was called and my visa finally granted! The train journey back to Kandy was packed and everyone as usual was staring at me. Its never hostile, I smile and they smile back and then we will get talking about cricket or they will ask me the usual questions, where you from? you married? you have girlfriend? why not?! Their English is usually limited, one thing which makes me laugh is their pronounciation of Coke, they say Cock. You want a cock sir? you like cock?  Anyway I digress.... the train wound its way up the mountains for 3 hours through lush green jungle and I was presented with the most amazing scene of the valley below. A thin layer of mist hugged the floor but not so much that you couldn't see the lights from the small houses dotted around the surrounding hills, the full moon provided the lighting, there was a sprinkling of stars and voila! It really was magical.
In the centre of the island is a pillar of rock called Sigirya which stands in the middle of a flat plain and reaches to a height of 150 metres. It is the remnants of the magma chamber of an old volcano. Over millions of years the softer rock of the volcano was weathered away leaving the harder rock which had formed in the magma chamber exposed. Sounds boring but a king came along and decided to build a palace on the top and the remnants of this can be found if you are prepared to hike up a lot of steps. It was pretty gruelling in the heat but worth it. I also got to see saw some of the hornets which are humongous wasps which have recently attacked and killed tourists at the site. 
A fellow traveller told me an interesting story about the tsunami which hit the south coast of the island in 2004. As you probably know, before the tsunami struck, the sea receded for about a kilometre before it advanced and flooded the coastline. The locals had no idea what was happening when the water retreated, they thought it was a miracle and started running out collecting fish and claiming areas of the land where the sea was as their own! crazy.
As I have said previously the people in Sri Lanka are incredibly friendly. In the 4 weeks that I have been here everyone has greeted me with a smile or a handshake. A taxi driver gave me a 50% discount as he liked the British. An old man offered me his apple on the train which I politely declined - he wouldn't take no for an answer and I really didn't want to take an apple of someone who was clearly very poor and an apple which I wasn't going to eat! I took it and put it in my pocket to avoid further blushes! I have even had people give up their seat on the bus for me (again politely declined). 37 hours on trains and buses and it has cost me £9 - thats about 3 pints! 
I won't bore you with the rest of what I have done, walking, temples, ruins and curries (food here is awesome). I can highly recommend Sri Lanka, I think it will be the next big thing. Similar to Thailand, cheaper and without the seediness.
I'm off to Delhi tomorrow, Imodium at the ready.....

Sri Lanka

October 21, 2012  •  3 Comments

After a 10 hour flight I arrived in Colombo and checked into a hostel next to the beach, bit of an unusual hostel as it was someone's flat with room for 2 people and somehow this lady was packing in 12 beds. There were plenty of people around for the cricket and I went along with a couple of cracking English guys and a Spaniard who we dragged along for his first experience of some willow spanking. I didn't have tickets for the semis but arriving at the stadium, a whole load of touts swarmed our tuk-tuk and I had a ticket in my hand in seconds for about £15. Sri Lanka won their semi and the atmosphere after was incredible, people letting fireworks off in the street and our tuk-tuk even got mobbed by 10 fans.


T20 cricket in Colombo



I rode the train down the south coast which was manic. It was packed and if you have ever been front row at a concert you will know what I mean, I just couldn't move and whats more there were vendors going up and down the train with baskets of fruit, snacks and get this, one man was selling balloons, what train journey is complete without a balloon?!   Once a few people got off I was able to hang out the doors, we weren't allowed on the roof but that's something i'm hoping I can do in India :) The bus journeys are fun for the first 5 minutes until you realise you are to be subjected to Sri Lankan pop music at deafening volumes and disco lights for the next 3 hours!  Unlike SE Asia, Sri Lanka doesn't have much of a backpacker scene so all my trips have been using public transport which isn't the most comfortable and usually means bus journeys are spent squished up against a local who think you enjoy them practicing English on you. The upside of the transport over here is that its so darn cheap. So far I have totalled 8 hours on a train and 5 on a bus for a grand total of £3.90! You put your life in the hands of the bus drivers who are nuts and then there's the rubbish being thrown out of the window by the locals!

Somehow I got off at the wrong railway station in the hill country where I was stranded for the night as there were no more trains. I ended up in a homestay in a small village and spent the night in the company of a couple of French people and a Sri Lankan family. The place was a dive! The toilet's cistern tank didn't fill so to flush you had to manually fill the cistern tank with water from a bowl, electricity was on for a few hours a day and there were big black spiders all over the place including one big fella above my bed. As I found out at night, my bed had two slats missing so half my body was falling into a gap while I was asleep. I do sometimes laugh at why I chose to travel like this but it really was such a great experience as we got to see life through the eyes of a Sri Lankan and the meal the lady cooked was incredible. Its also amazing what you can live without especially when you get off at the wrong station and are left in the arse end of nowhere!

The south of Sri Lanka has one of the most stunning coastlines I have seen, turquoise blue waters, crashing waves and palm trees all the way. Sri Lanka is re-developing its tourism industry since the tsunami and the Tamil tigers scared people away. Because of this I have found Sri Lanka to be unspoiled by mass tourism and there have been many occasions I have found myself being the only white person in town or on the bus. As a result people stare at you and I also seem to be getting some unwanted attention from Sri Lankan men who are quite open about their sexuality. One man blew me a kiss, I had my nuts grabbed by a security guard at the cricket as I was being searched and on more than one occasion I have been asked for my phone number. I thought it was just me but a French guy I met gave a tip to a restaurant owner who gave him a kiss on both cheeks and then tried to give him a kiss on the lips! An Ozzy fella was chatted up by immigration, having not been in the country 2 minutes! 

The people are incredibly friendly although they take hassling to a new level. I visited one of Thomas Lipton's tea factories and decided to walk the 10km back to town, I had my camera out and walked passed a school which had just finished for the day. Every kid said hello to me and wanted to have their photo taken. If this happened at home the police would be on to me! That's assuming the kids hadn't mugged me and stole my camera. I then had an entourage of 10 kids and 8 tea pickers walking along with me for half an hour, chatting away, having running races and clowning around. After they left I still heard kids shouting hello from the hills for about an hour.

I have now been invited in to two schools, one of them had a group of 20 or so kids in a marching band. They played me something while I took photos. Too be honest it sounded bloody awful and I think Neil Peart's job in Rush is safe. This morning a teacher invited me into his school, gave me a cup of tea and then  tried to sell me some tat!  

Yala is a national park in the south east of the country and I did a couple of safaris where there were elephants, crocodiles, lizards, buffalo, deer and a couple of leopards. People go mad for the leopards, as soon as one is sighted all the jeep drivers are on the phone to each other and a mass of vehicles descend on this poor leopard at the same time, I counted 30 vehicles queued up which kind of spoils the moment but they are beautiful beasts.

I went on a boat trip looking for blue whales but we didn't see any as there aren't many around at this time of year. I am hoping to give this another go before I leave as a blue whales is a big tick on my list of things to do before I snuff it.

And one last photo of me getting suitably caned in the sun...



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