To Thailand

Leaving Nepal was a sad goodbye but coming to Thailand was like a breath of fresh air. Both of us have visited Thailand a few times (Dave – more than a few) and we knew what to expect but even so, we were so happy to land in a ‘civilised’ country.

While India was certainly exotic (take that as you will) and Nepal was fantastic there is something quite modern and metropolitan about Thailand, especially Bangkok.

The rough plan was a few days in Bangkok before we headed to Ko Chang, an island paradise in the Gulf of Thailand about a days travel away from the capital to the east. Like most travellers we were partying a little too heartily and had decided we needed to stay put for a bit to try a bit of clean living and to stop spending so much money and we figured a tropical island sounded like just the right place to chill for a couple of months 🙂

After all the developing countries we had visited in the last few months Bangkok was such a relief. Anything you want you can find in that city, apparently there is even vegemite to be bought in the big supermarkets.

We based ourselves in Khao San Rd in central Bangkok. For those not familiar with Khao San Rd it is the place of all backpackers. The whole road and now the 2 adjoining it have been backpacker hangouts for years, and lined with guest houses ranging from the boutique to the tawdry and bars and restaurants galore it is a great spot to stay.

On the first day there we headed in to Chatuchak markets. Now I have been to many markets, indeed I would call myself a market lover but Chatuchak is something else. It is massive. Ok, make that even bigger than massive at a grand size of 27 acres!!!!! It is so big that they have maps to help you find which area of the market you might find your prospective bargain. And bargains they have. It is a huge building with mile after mile of stalls selling all manner of things at great prices.

We wandered the market for about 3 hours before the heat started to get to me. There is literally everything there from puppies to silk flowers, antiques to jeans, jewellery to wedding supplies. It is a treasure trove and worth a look if you ever get to Bangkok. I have been twice and it never ceases to impress.

Another day we headed into the main part of town where all the big shopping malls are. The 2 biggest are Siam Centre and Siam Paragon Mall, 2 side by side multistorey shopping meccas. Siam Centre is the ‘normal’ shops that we would see at home and in most shopping centres around the world. Lots of clothing, shoes, electrical etc. And a great food court where it seemed like everything was cooked fresh with ingredients you select yourself. It was fantastic.

But then we went next door to Siam Paragon Mall and oh, wow!!! This was like walking onto Rodeo Drive. Every shop was a Gucci, Prada, YSL, Hermes etc etc and some of the most exotic jewellery and watch shops I have ever seen. And the shoppers, another wow! I have never seen such beautiful and beautifully dressed people anywhere in the world. Shopping not for the unrich likes of us but certainly there seemed to be many who could afford such luxury 🙂

It felt as though everyone we saw had just stepped straight out of a fashion magazine – a far cry from what we had been seeing everyday for the last 4 months. It was fabulous.

Under the mall is a massive aquarium so we wiled away a few hours there looking at the amazing fish and aquatic creatures before heading upstairs to take in a movie. Now that all sounds really mundane but the idea of seeing a movie was fantastic. We had not been anywhere with accessible English speaking movies for months and indeed, even English speaking tv was as stretch in most places.

I think sometimes that it is only when you are unable (for whatever reason) to do such simple things that they become so much more pleasurable. I mean, going to the movies at home, while pleasurable, was no big deal but somehow it was just that much better in Bangkok 🙂

Another day of general organising (banking, postage that sort of stuff) and we figured we were ready to head out to Ko Chang. And then we discovered that the next night was State of Origin (for those that don’t know it is a grudge match football game held over 3 games each year and must watch tv for anyone from Queensland or New South Wales). So of course we delayed our departure, talked a bar into changing off the soccer highlights onto Australian football and settled in for an afternoon of beers and cheers. Sadly our team didn’t win but I would still say that it was a simple pleasure that reminded us of home.

Thus with no small hangover we hit the bus and headed to Ko Chang. But I’ll tell you about that next time 😉

Chatuchak markets
Crocodile bag – Chatuchak markets.

Chatuchak marketsLoved and wanted the antiques.

Chatuchak marketsDaves’ new girlfriend? Bit of a glamour although very quiet 😉

Siam centrePick your own bits and they make it into a soup or stir-fry. So fresh!!!

Siam centreSiam Ocean WorldOh yeah – I got a haircut as well 😉

Siam Ocean WorldSiam Ocean World.

Thai noodle soupMy favourite place to eat – and right outside our hotel. Chicken noodle soup, freshly made and delicious for about $1.20, available until the wee small hours 🙂

Thai noodle soupOh my!!!! Soooo tasty!

(This one wasn’t mine – I always forget the piccy and start to eat – and it isn’t chicken but you get the idea 😉 )

Be Sociable, Share!

2 Comments

Bodhnath temple, Kathmandu

On the outskirts of Kathmandu is one of the most revered temples in all of Nepal and certainly the largest stupa in Asia, Bodhnath.

Originally Boudha was a stopping point on the trade route from Lhasa (Tibet) and Kathmandu (Nepal). The Tibetan traders would stop here to pray for safe travel as they headed over the Himalayan passes with their laden yaks. In current times it is a special place in the lives of the many Tibetans living in Kathmandu and Nepal. After China invaded Tibet in 1959 many Tibetan people fled the country into neighbouring Nepal and Bodhnath temple and the surrounding town of Boudha is a place where they can practice their Tibetan brand of Buddhism without interference. I had read that on the night of the full moon the temple would be especially stunning as the devotees light thousands of yak oil lamps in prayers and it just so happened that we were there for a full moon so to Bodhnath we went.

From the street all we could see was the tip of the spire atop the stupa with flags reaching away but following the crowds took us through a large gateway into the central courtyard where the stupa holds pride of place. Actually it would be fairer to say that the stupa takes up pretty much all the room inside the courtyard. It is massive!!

It is a multi-tiered structure intended to represent all the important elements of Buddhism. The plinth base is the earth, the beautiful white kumbha dome is water, the square harmika tower with the all-seeing eyes of Buddha is fire and the spire is air with 13 tiers showing the steps to enlightenment and the top most umbrella representing the ether or the void that is space. All that said though it is a beautiful temple with prayer flags fluttering to all corners and a fresh clean look that feels so serene.

The serenity of the stupa is a strong counterpoint to the scene at the base. Literally thousands of people come daily to pay their respects. Butter lamps and prayer wheels are everywhere and everyone that enters the courtyard walks in the traditional Buddhist clockwise direction and all complete at least one circuit of the temple.

For us it was awesome. We wandered amongst the crowd, following the clockwise stream. The assortment of people was inspiring. There were maroon clad monks walking along fingering their prayer beads, average everyday Nepali folk chatting happily in family groups, robed Tibetan monks leading lines of faithful believers, the uber-devout who complete the circuit by prostrating themselves on the ground for each step and of course, the tourists. Every face seemed to be happy. And I am not kidding when I say that the feeling around the base of the stupa was one of comfort and peace. Sounds kitch but that is literally how it felt.

Everyone seemed to just cruise along with no jostling, no angst or rushing. It was a very calm and relaxed place, especially when I consider that there were hundreds of people all turning around the base of the stupa. This for me was a really cool place and one I would recommend anyone visiting Nepal go and see.

It is so easy to get ‘templed out’ in Asia. Sometimes it feels as though the only thing that a town has going for it is amazing temples, one after another, but Bodhnath was quite different. I think it was a combination of the visual spectacle that is the temple itself as well as the sheer volume and peaceful nature of those who came to visit. It was terrific.

Of course in the end Dave and I took refuge in a 3rd storey bar to watch the world below us turning and to wait for the full moon to rise. Unfortunately we should have gone one floor higher for the moonrise (I went up to check on it and voila – there it was – moon beside stupa – mad scramble to get the camera etc etc heheh). I didn’t get any decent piccys of the moon because I had chosen the wrong spot but either way we certainly had a great afternoon.

And it was a lovely way to end our trip through a country that has proven to be visually spectacular both in the mountains and the cities and towns with some of the most welcoming people we have met anywhere and traveller hospitality that was utterly fabulous. We loved Nepal so much that we had planned to spend a couple more months but the monsoon season up against the Himalayas is just a bit too much to contemplate when simple things like electricity supply and internet are an issue. So to Thailand we go bidding a sad farewell to Nepal with promises to be back. Loved it and want to do it again (but in Oct/Nov/Dec when the weather and the views are said to be spectacular 🙂 ).

BodhnathEntering the temple precinct through a corridor of 3 storey buildings and shops.

Bodhnath

BodhnathThis little old lady was giving blessings in return for a small payment. When she got up to leave she had a wad of notes that was inches thick. Her blessings must have been well regarded.

BodhnathAll around the stupa were people in silent meditation and prayer.

Bodhnath

Bodhnath

BodhnathA slow shutter view of the people all moving in one direction.

Bodhnath

BodhnathAs dusk falls they close the access to the stupa and the whole thing is lit up with fairy lights. It was a truly beautiful sight.

BodhnathSome of the thousand yak oil lamps lit for prayer. I lit some myself and gave thanks for all of my blessings.

Be Sociable, Share!
4 Comments

Kathmandu – a city of contrasts

Kathmandu is the capital city of Nepal and like many large cities it is a mix of peoples, styles and cultures. It is a sprawling metropolis of over a million people, Nepali and displaced Tibetans living side by side in apparent harmony.

My first impressions of Kathmandu were definitely positive. After the hectic pace of India it was like a breath of fresh air to be amongst people who live a calmer, more peaceful way of life. Even the drive from the airport was calmer – no racing in and out of traffic, no loud obnoxious horns blowing at every second. I don’t mean that people stay in their lanes and drive calmly but compared to what we had just left it was a step closer.

We stayed in the old part of town known as Thamel. It is a maze of streets lined with shops of all kinds, restaurants and bars aplenty, and in random spaces would be a shrine or temple for daily offerings. In some ways Kathmandu reminded me of Rome. I was lucky enough to go there a few years ago and the thing I remember most was the feeling of awe when you turn the corner of some random street and there is a remnant of ancient times, melded into the modern city. Kathmandu felt the same.

We would wander past some shops of comparatively modern age, only to find them nestled up against a building that was built in the day of ornate balconies and glassless windows. A small doorway off the street may lead into a house or it may take you through to a courtyard with shrine and statues for people to thank their God. And often it was not just one God. There could be Buddha and Ganesh (the elephant God of Hindu beliefs) sitting side by side in one space.

Wandering around we came to Durbar square. It is a large space that holds over a dozen temples and sacred buildings and is one of the most amazing spectacles. In 1934 a massive earthquake all but demolished much of Kathmandu and certainly most of the buildings in Durbar square but the people recovered the broken pieces and rebuilt the temples, paying homage to the craftsmanship of the original builders of the 14 and 1500’s and celebrating their reverence of their Gods.

One of the buildings is home to a living Goddess that we were fortunate (?) enough to see. A young girl is chosen and lives her life until puberty as the real life incarnation of the Goddess Kumari cloistered in a small temple where she pops her golden head through a window several times a day to greet her adoring public. I would have to say that the spectacle for me brought forth very mixed feelings. It seemed quite a sad thing to lock a young woman away for 10 years then expect her to return to “normal” life. I would have to say that I am glad I am not in line to be a living Goddess, not my cup of tea.

We hired a scooter and took to the streets to see what the rest of Kathmandu was like. I would have to say that it is such a city of contrasts. The streets are relatively clean and the people are certainly some of the friendliest you would ever meet but the living conditions and infrastructure are mind bending at times. The river that flows through the heart of the city is unlike any other I have seen before. The water is literally black. It seems that the best place to use as a city dump is the river. I guess that the theory is that the rubbish will be washed away every year by the monsoon flooding but Oh My Goodness, in the interim it is the most filthy polluted piece of water I have ever seen.

The buildings on the whole are in pretty good condition and there was a lot of construction going on but the traffic is chaotic and the pollution on a whole new scale. After a few hours of riding we both had faces covered in black from the exhaust of trucks and cars. Unlike India with dust and dirt Nepal’s air is just filthy with brick factory kiln smoke, diesel fumes from generators used to combat the daily 12 hour power shortages and vehicle pollution. It struck me as a wonder that the people are so healthy (looking).

And then just when your heart is sinking a bit we would come across something amazing. One ride took us up into the mountains just outside of the city and we were in dense rainforest listening to the deafening calls of cicadas. Another day we discovered the Garden of Dreams, an oasis in the middle of the city where a man had built a special place for himself and his family. Now open to the public it is a place of calm and beauty, manicured gardens and beautiful fountains and pools. It felt like nirvana on a hot and tiring day to pop in for an hour of quietude.

So, what of Kathmandu? I liked it. It is a mess undoubtedly but the spirit of the people, the beauty of the temples and the unexpected little surprises when teamed up with the convenience and accessibility makes it a winner in my book. We had planned to stay for a while but the monsoons are coming so we are reviewing the plans – again. Before we leave Nepal though there is another treasure I want to share. I’ll save that for the next blog though 😉

The last few blogs have been a bit light on photos but this one I think goes the other way. I tried to cull these shots thinking there were too many but in the end I liked each of the pictures enough that you get them all 🙂 Hope they don’t bore you 😉

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe streets of Thamel, crowded with people and scooters with the occasional taxi squeezing through.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPlopped down in the intersection of a couple of streets a large temple.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADurbar Square. (We weren’t allowed to photograph the Goddess so nothing to show for her I’m sorry 😉 )

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis cat just cruised a long the lintel of a temple and thought that the window was a perfect vantage point.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPotter making jars.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWeaving.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe rubbish dump!!!!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe Garden of Dreams.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA typical scene.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAKathmandu!

Be Sociable, Share!
3 Comments

Just had to laugh – Delhi airport

Some transit days are easy. You get up, pack, hit the road and everything just goes according to plan. And then there are the other days… 😉

Having sold the bike we decided to head back to Nepal for a little bit before leaving the subcontinent. I had the whole thing mapped out. Pack, catch the metro to the airport at about 10.30/11ish (30 minute trip on the metro), hop on the plane to Kathmandu at 1.35pm, 1.5 to 2 hours of lead time. Now how hard could that be (heheh)

The packing thing went remarkably well. Since we started we have both bought clothes while we had the bike and the extra space of the panniers, but now with the bike gone everything has to go back into the smaller backpacks which looked like a bit of a mission. I ended up leaving a couple of things that I decided I didn’t need and in 30 minutes of pushing and shoving on my bag we were all packed and ready to go, with time to spare.

Not wanting to have too many rupees left over we had run our money right down the night before (read went out and had a heap of beers to use up the spare cash heheheh). We paid our hotel bill and had a comfortable 300 rupees to get us to the airport. The metro is such a great and cheap travel system. Most trips were costing us about 20-30 rupees for both of us so no problem there.

We left the hotel with time aplenty and headed to the station. What we had both forgotten is that the only way to get a metro token is to line up and of course this time the lines were really long and seriously slow. Still, no problems. 18 rupees and we were off to the central Delhi station where we would buy the tokens for the airport line. All good.

Get to central and eventually find the special airport counter only to discover that the ticket to the airport is priced completely differently. No little cheapie here – the price was R300 (not that much – $6) but …. We only had 280 rupee and no, there is no atm in the train station L Oh boy – starting to look a bit stressed now. If we try to go out and find an atm we will be well behind schedule for getting to the airport (it would have taken probably close to 30 minutes to get out and back). Thankfully a lovely young Indian gentleman heard our exchange with the ticket man, came up and asked how much were we short and gave us the extra 20 rupees. The kindness of that simple act literally saved us from missing our plane and I will never be able to say thank you to him enough.

So, problem solved (and lesson learnt – check ticket pricing online the night before, don’t assume) and we are on the metro running perfectly to time. Arrive at the Delhi airport dead on 12. Perfect. That gives us 1.5 hours to check in and go through immigration. Easy!

Nope – not so much. The check in line was insanely long and suuuuuper slow. In the end they called our flight forward so no worries there. I knew that was the way this part worked so was not even vaguely stressed. Then immigration; an absolute breeze. Stamped and done. And then security…

And that’s where it all went to hell. Women can only be checked by a woman and while they have the walk through beepy things they don’t use them. They wand and pat down everyone. So I am now in a line with 20 other women in front of me while seemingly the lady that does the checking is off somewhere else (as in we were not moving). I’m thinking, ok well, I’m sure that once they start it will go quickly. After all, we are in an airport where people have planes to catch right? Wrong!!! So slow! I was tearing my hair out by the time I got through the other side. We had gone from having plenty of time to now being T minus 30 for departure. Cutting it a bit fine for my liking.

But it wasn’t finished yet. Security were having biggggg problems with our bags. They had electronic things in them – like cables and cords – such lethal items to be carrying!! So we fished all the cables out and they rescanned the bags. Then Dave had a small battery operated nose hair trimmer (don’t ask 😉 ) and they seemed to effectively feel that this was almost a bomb in the making. Another 5 minutes gone! And then calamity of all calamities – our bags did not have baggage tags on them for the security guys to stamp. Now we are in search of 3 tags. It got to the point where one guy suggested I go back out to checkin. I did explain that that was impossible as I had already gone through immigration!!!!! Stress levels are now starting to peak. With no checked luggage we are very easy to offload as “missed the plane” passengers.

Eventually 3 tags were found and we were released to go and find our plane. At T minus 18minutes!!!!! And it turns out the airport is HUGE and our gate at the far end. So Dave and I are hotfooting it all the way to the gate, with people yelling “Are you Kathmandu? Hurry, hurry!” Man, I could not have hurried any more if I tried. By the time we got to the gate they were calling our name, which having worked in an airline is the last step before they offload you from the manifest. Both of us were blowing like race horses and dripping with sweat. And the little man at the gate just kept saying, “calm, calm”. Yeah right!!! Anything but calm.

In the end we made the flight, miraculously found space for our bags in the overheads and settled in to our seats thankful to have made it.

I can honestly say that in all of the travel I have done, in countless airports around the world I have never seen anything like the absolute rubbish and time wasting that went on around that security clearance station. It took us over 40 minutes to get through. Incredible.

Some days, travel is easy, some days it is not. But that’s just travel. And now, safely delivered to Nepal I can truly sit back, shake my head and laugh and think with great gratitude on the generosity of strangers and the frustration of airports.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe Himalayas from the plane window. They are truly spectacular! I would have taken more but we were on the wrong side of the plane and this was the only shot I got where the guy was not looking out the window so that I could shoot across the aisle 😉

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERATo finish India I thought I would just throw in a random rural scene. It was up in the mountains but could have been pretty much anywhere in India.

Be Sociable, Share!
2 Comments

Goodbye both India and the Enfield

Before leaving Nainital Dave took the bike to a mechanic to get a quick check up on a random clunk (which was nothing to be worried about) and while he was there got chatting to a local fellow who upon finding out that we were headed down back onto the plains was kind (?) enough to offer a route that would be both beautiful and a fun (?) ride.

Now you may be wondering about the question marks in there. That is because in hindsight from my point of view I am not sure it was a kindness and as for fun – oh hell NO!

It was a 2 day ride down through undoubtedly spectacular vistas. The first day I have to admit I enjoyed quite a lot. We started up in thick pine forests with the ground thickly covered in rust coloured needles. Unfortunately when you know that there are at least 5 hours of riding ahead stopping to try and create photographic magic wasn’t on the radar but take my word for it – winding through these trees was really lovely. Then we opened out onto wide sweeping valleys dotted with tiny villages and terraces as far as the eye could see. The road conditions were generally pretty good and the traffic comparatively light so the riding was pretty darned good.

Then we swept down to meet the baby Ganges River. It starts up high in the Himalayas and is gradually fattened with other rivers feeding into it until it hits the plains and becomes the mighty Ganga. We stopped for the night in a random roadside hotel with a balcony that overlooked the river. It was a delight to sit and watch the eddies swirl in the rich soil brown waters as people across the river ended their day and brought their animals home for the night. Peace and tranquillity at its best.

The next day dawned as a hot one but considering the success of the previous days riding I was feeling quite confident that all would be well. Sooooooo wrong!

The road followed the river pretty much all the way to our planned stop and we figured that it would be quite a pleasurable day of watching the river race past as we wound along with it. What rot! We first of all climbed up and up and up, which as a non-heights person was getting a little tough to take. Then the road went from goodish bitumen to wreckage of bitumen. The monsoons bring so much water down the sheer sided mountains that it literally washes the road out, well those bits of the road that it doesn’t cover with massive landslides. So by now my heart rate is rising along with the panic levels. We are literally driving along a dodgy Indian road that has effectively been bulldozed into the side of a mountain, with cliffs above us (sometimes overhanging the road – yay!) and a sheer drop of about 1000m to a roaring river below with no guard rails and nothing to stop us diving over the edge (well, that is except Daves riding skills).

By now I am no longer looking out and enjoying the view. My eyes are literally glued to the inside wall and I am silently panicking like a madwoman. Even not looking I could feel the gaping nothingness extending out from our side with my peripheral vision and each time I thought I had myself back under control we would round a corner and there would be the big nothing. Horrific! But it got worse.

Not only is this road in poor repair and scary high but it is as busy as anything. Buses, cars, motorbikes, trucks – you name it they are all using it and being a constant twist of blind corners means that every turn could bring a fresh kind of middle of the road driving hell. You see Indians don’t believe that a blind corner is any reason not to overtake. Anywhere with enough room to squeeze past will do and they are sure that the person in the other lane will just work it out. And please don’t think I am only talking motorbikes zipping through – I am talking cars and buses overtaking slower trucks. The only warning is the honking of a horn as you near a blind corner. As we were on the downward cliff side of the road this freaked me out even more. There is nowhere to go to avoid these road idiots. But then a fresh hell unfolded. You see not only is there the traffic but the buses are packed to capacity and stop for nothing so there were a couple of times when we had to swerve to avoid the projectile vomit from car-sick passengers as they hurled out the windows.

Yep, in case you haven’t worked it out, that was the most mind-blowingly terrifying experience ever on the Enfield. I had spent the better part of 2 hours silently crying in abject fear. Each time I thought I had it back together there would be some new obstacle to swerve around and a new wave of panic to ride. At one stage we stopped for a break and I had managed to get it vaguely together right up until the point that Dave asked me was I ok (maybe it was the red rimmed eyes, the sniffle or just the glazed look in my eyes that gave it away). When I dissolved into fresh tears he was so sad for me. He had been looking out enjoying the thrill of the ride and the amazing views that were unfolding around us not realising that I was trying to figure out which was worse – flying into Jomsom or the ride I was currently trapped in. It is a sad fact that fear is such a fun thief. He was loving it while I was so scared I didn’t know which way was up. But that’s life, and unfortunately this was one roller coaster I couldn’t get off. So it was just a case of suck it up and hang on tight. After 2 hours of hell when we had finally made it out of the mountains and back to flat ground I was done.

The plan for India was now moot. There would be no exciting trip over the Himalayas up to the true high ground of far northern India. There would be no amazing monasteries, no windswept snowy landscapes. I was done!!!

So after only 2 months of having our trusty steed she went back to Delhi. No more Enfield.

I have to admit that while I definitely had a love/hate relationship with that bike, I will miss her. The freedom to come and go as you like, to pick where to stop and for how long, the mad and crazy experiences we have had with that bike made it quite sad to say goodbye. But hello no more pain from spending hours in one position, no more peering around Daves helmet to try and see the view, no more messing about with accommodation because the bike has to be safe.

Would I recommend India on an Enfield? As a general statement I would say no. But that is my view. Dave on the other hand loved it. For him it was almost a test of will and skill driving through India and those final days in the mountains for him were a joy. So in the end I would have to say to each their own but either way that bike certainly only added to our adventure.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAView from the first day of riding. The terraces were spectacular with small villages nestled in amongst them.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe terraces seemed to cover every surface.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI cannot even begin to imagine how much this bunch of animal fodder weighed but she was grateful to ‘take a load off’ and be paid for a couple of piccys.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERANow I would love to say that this was a classic example of the kind of roads we travelled but the mere fact of this photo shows that it was mega mild. For the really bad stuff there was no way I could take a photo. My hands were full of holding on for dear life 🙂

Be Sociable, Share!

5 Comments

The town for local tourists – Nainital

The north-western areas of India (Uttarakand province and north) share the Himalayas with Nepal so the countryside is vastly different and so are the temperatures. Having spent a month in 35degC+ temps we decided to ‘head for the hills’ to try and find some resite form the pre-monsoon heat.

Nainital is a small town nestled in the mountains at about 2000m above sea level and instead of heat it has gorgeous cool days (mid 20’s). Instead of baked dry dusty plains it has a gorgeous lake in the bottom of the valley and instead of hoards of western tourists it is a favourite of Indians escaping the heat of the lower regions. In the 6 days we spent there we literally saw 4 other Europeans, and that my friends is unheard of for a tourist town.

The drive up into the mountains was gorgeous, with scenes that made me think of Europe. Lots of pine wooded hillsides and lovely winding roads. Of course it comes with a heap of rubbish and Indian crazy driving so it was not all Edelweiss and ‘The Sound of Music’ but hey – this is India.

As we made our way through the crazy bus depot part of town we crested a hill and there it was. A perfect teardrop lake with mountains climbing on all sides, pretty mulitcoloured buildings and temples dotting the landscape. We looked at this and went – yep, heaven on a stick. We had planned to stop for a bit to get some work done and this looked like just the spot.

We found ourselves a lovely little hotel (prices here were much higher than we expected – lake views stretching to $50+) that was in budget and settled in for a good stretch.

And then reality hits 😉 Of course with an Indian tourist town the only food you can get is …. Indian! I am not sure what I had expected but some variety wouldl have been good. Most touristy places can throw together some pasta or a pizza to tempt the western eaters but these guys didn’t have to – they have practically no western eaters. Now don’t get me wrong – we like Indian food a lot, but not every night, a little choice is a good thing.

Then there was the beer thing. No restaurants sell alcohol at all. In the whole town we found one bar and it was literally about 2.5km walk from us through thronging masses of people and traffic, downhill outbound and massively uphill on the homeward run. Bottleshops numbered 2, one of which was closer to us but still with the down/uphill problem. By the time we bought beers and struggled up the steep hill to our hotel both ourselves and the beers were all hot and sweaty. That said – not an insurmountable problem.

And then Dave got sick. 2 days spent trapped in the room, definitely not fun. Even more so as buying toilet paper turned out to be more difficult than buying beer. Indians don’t use it and as it is an Indian tourist town there was none to be found. I eventually found a packet of soft serviettes so they did double duty and got us through.

In the end though, by the time he was well enough to go out and we had pretty much decided that while Nainital is undoubtedly gorgeous and sensationally temperatured, that perhaps it was not a place for us to stay for a month. So on we go. Back down the mountains and back to the heat of the plains.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA beautiful 100+ year old mosque sits at the base of the lake, right near a huge Hindu temple complex. Religions seemingly getting along.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERACrowded late afternoon shoppers compete with cars, motorbikes and jeeps.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe only thing missing from the photo is the noise. It is an endless aural barrage of tooting horns from every vehicle that moves through the streets. At times it feels like you just want to scream for the noise to stop!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA gent selling his fruit out the front of his shop.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERATypical Indian ‘corner store’. Everything from shampoo sachets to packets of chippes and all things in between.

Be Sociable, Share!
Leave a comment

Border crossings

Our Nepali visa was coming close to expiry so we made a run to the western border of Nepal heading in to India. The border towns that we have been to (Sunali on the southern border to India and Mahendranagar on the west) are both very similar.

There is something about border towns. They are dusty dirty places with people rushing everywhere. The towns themselves tend to be large with a string of often ordinary hotels where people hole up in preparation for the crossing. For us we found a hotel that didn’t seem too bad and settled in for the night. The main drag that ran through town just outside our hotel was hot and dusty and the sound is mind bending. It is a constant cacophony of tooting horns from vehicles of all shapes and sizes.

It did seem though that not many western tourists stopped in Mahendranagar for the night as our appearance on the street certainly turned heads, something we are quite used to as independent travellers. I guess most tourists don’t have their own transport and the timings of the buses from Kathmandu and Pokhara are set to get people to the border for early morning crossings, not have them while away a few hours in dusty town. For Indians and Nepali people the border is an open crossing so I suspect that most of the hotel customers were of a more local variety.

So what’s it like to cross the border? Surprisingly it was quite fuss free. All of our paperwork was in order with our Indian visa still current and allowing for a re-entry so it is a simple matter of finding the right office on the Nepali side of the border, they take your passports and stamp you out, you then make your way (for us on the bike, for others on rickshaws) across about 50m of no-mans-land then hand over the documents to the immigration officials of India and voila – you’re in.

Coming in to Nepal was not quite so simple for us though. The Sunali border crossing was a far bigger mess with trucks banked up on the Indian side for a few km. Thankfully with the bike we could weave our way through until we spotted something that hinted at immigration and a border line (in this case a big archway marking the entry to Nepal). The outgoing Indian paperwork was simple but coming into Nepal with an Indian Enfield motorbike was quite another story.

We did the personal immigration process at one office then had to take the bike to the customs office where we had to pay a surcharge for each day of the visa (not much, only $1/day) but we had no Nepali money so Dave had to run and find an ATM that took visa (can be a hassle with the visa/mastercard thing). Then with all the appropriate copies of everything in triplicate the paperchase begins. The papers are basically passed through 6 sets of hands until it is all stamped and paid then we were allowed to go. Not really too much drama but it took the better part of 2 hours in the dust and heat. Still, better that then they had knocked us back – I have no idea what we would have done then. But then we do tend to just make it up as we go along so I’m sure we’d have worked it out.

So there you have it – border crossing at its finest. The most fun was when we had made it out of Nepal and into India we had to cross a bridge where the ends were gated and there was a narrow space to walk through. Unfortunately the panniers on the Enfield were too wide (nothing like finding that out by jamming the bike into the opening while being pressured from front and back by other people trying to get through). Took a bit of shoving but we eventually backed it up and of course in the end we managed to find the man with the gate key but it certainly made for a bit of a giggle.

So my advice for border crossings and visas, make sure all your paperwork/internet application is in order, always have a few copies and plenty of spare passport photos, arrive with plenty of time and always be super polite to the immigration people 🙂 All goes so much smoother that way. Oh and US dollars are king at any border crossing (would have saved us a trip to find the ATM 😉 ).

Mahendranagar, Nepal

After the rush of the afternoon, the evening settles into heat and dust. Mahendranagar, Nepali border town.

Nepali fruit salesmanFruit salesman. All through India and Nepal men and women set up small stalls selling their selection of fruit.

Mahendranagar, NepalNepali vegetable sellerAnd so it is goodbye from Nepal, next blog from India 🙂

Be Sociable, Share!
1 Comment

Safari in Chitwan National Park

After our little mountain experience of cockroaches and howling dogs (see here) we headed down to the plains of lower Nepal to visit Chitwan National Park, home to 225 tigers, heaps of rhino and sloth bears, monkeys and deer. Sounded like a good chance to get acquainted with some wildlife.

The town itself was lovely with a river edging the park so of course we headed straight down there for a couple of sundowner beverages. As we sat watching the sun set in the deadly heat (38degC +) an elephant wandered out of the bush across the river, browsing the bushes for the tenderest leaves. Then out of the gloaming appeared a herd of 6 deer, unfortunately too far away in low light to really be able to see them well but it seemed to bode well for our safari experience the next day.

We booked ourselves in to a 2 hour canoe trip down the river with a 3 hour walk back. We really wanted to see a tiger, and according to our guide it was not impossible, just highly unlikely and it turned out he was right. We saw some really neat crocs with bizzare thin noses with bulbs on the end called garhwals (not the people eating kind) as well as some bigger people eating crocs amusingly called mugger crocodiles, lots of birds and not much else on the river but it was an awesome way to start the day before it got too hot.

The walk back took us through some really wild landscapes. Elephant grass that was literally higher than my head (a great place for tigers to hide was my thought 😉 ) followed by an open woodland. We didn’t see anything more exciting than some deer on our walk but then again, maybe seeing a tiger on foot when all the guides had was a thick stick was not a bad thing. We saw claw marks up the trees and tiger scat (poop) but no tigers.

The afternoon session was an elephant safari just on the fringes of the park. We were loaded onto a platform with 2 other Chinese tourists on the back of our elephant and away we went, lurching into the forest. Seemingly tigers are less upset by elephants and don’t tend to notice the human component so if we saw one there was a chance of getting a closer encounter. We didn’t see one but … we saw rhino. There were 2 rhino in a clearing (which was apparently quite unusual as there are only 4 known to live in the area) and it seems they were right about the elephant closeup thing.

I swear we were only about 5m away from them at one stage. It was awesome!!!! They just didn’t seem to give a hoot about the elephants with human cargo and just went on munching their dinner of grass. I was so stoked. Got a few piccys (as a mild understatement) and was glowing with rhino love by the time we left them to it. Have to say – while squashed onto a lurching platform on top of an elephant may not be the most comfortable or graceful way to travel, the anonymity it gives for wildlife spotting was well worth every minute.

While we didn’t see a tiger we would both agree that Chitwan was an experience that we would like to come back to. It seems that the tigers don’t just hang on the edges of the park (who would have guessed) and that to increase the chance of seeing them you have to take a 3-5 day trek into the forest. We are thinking that we wouldn’t mind trying that at another time of the year when it is not quite so hot (pre-monsoon heat) and when we are feeling all gung ho. For me the only disappointment really was that I would have like to have seen a bear but luck wasn’t with us this time so I guess I’ll just have to settle for close encounters of the rhino kind 🙂

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Our guide, perfectly balanced at the front of our dugout canoe.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWaiting patiently for all the tourist passengers.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

It was amazing how close we could get to the rhino with them seemingly unconcerned by our presence.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAfter our safari I, of course, had to pose with our lovely lady.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis shot was taken at a local soccer match. The mahouts take their elephant down to be able to use them as a grandstand to get a birdseye view 🙂

Be Sociable, Share!
2 Comments

The truth of budget travel

There is something inherently glamorous about travel. When we told everyone that we were leaving with no fixed timeline the responses were widely varied. A few friends were happy for us but had no desire to undertake such a trip, others though were full of “you’re so lucky” and “what a great adventure”. I thought that I might take a moment to give you a taste of long term budget travel.

When we left Pokhara we were aiming for a national park that is down on the Indian border but it was a 2 day ride so we broke our trip at a small mountain town renowned for its ‘European’ styled beauty. And indeed, in the centre of town it did have a fairly cosmopolitan feel with lovely old buildings converted into hotels and cafes all with graceful lines and gorgeous trellised climbers. Unfortunately for us though to get to them there was a set of stairs to negotiate which couldn’t be done on the motorbike so instead we settled into a hotel that was just on the town fringes, overlooking the valley with the local village. I would say it was a fairly typical hotel for a place outside of a big city.

So what are these hotels really like? Well, the sign out the front says 24hr hot water (always a plus to see that prominently displayed) and a restaurant, another bonus to be able to eat in-house. The room itself was simple enough, 2 single beds that are pushed together normally although in this room they were separated. They have a bottom sheet and a pillow and usually there is some kind of blanket. Thankfully here, because it gets cold due to being on the top of the mountain there was a doona, which was great as the beds were so hard that literally sleeping on the floor would not have been too much difference. We laid the doonas down on the beds and slept on them instead. We both have sleeping silks that we sleep instead of using sheets.

The attached bathroom is a must for us as we aren’t into sharing bathrooms and this one was average. They tend to have a slightly musty smell as in most of them the drains tend to hold water that never leaves. Asking for a towel is usually quite a mission but eventually one will turn up (very seldom 2 unless I press the point). Of course the hot water was a myth but the lady of the house filled a big kettle for me and voila, a big bucket, a dipper and away I went.

Dinner was a set meal which I have to say is unusual but it was hot, plentiful and very tasty so score full points there. Most of the places we have stayed have had really good food so no complaints there. After dinner we went back to our room to read and mess about on the computer etc before turning in for the night.

In most areas where mossies are a problem they either have screens on the windows and/or a mosquito net but as we were so high up we were assured there were no mossies. Seriously – what a big fat lie!! There were whole squadrons of the little blighters dive bombing in search of sustenance. As I had met with this before I carry a can of mossie spray so I nuked the room. Unfortunately this stuff stinks and normally I would do it as we head down for dinner so that the smell has dissipated by the time we get back but I was stuck with it. Of course what I hadn’t counted on was that the spray would upset the resident cockroach which as soon as the lights went out did a big buzzing flyby. Lights on! Seek and destroy!! (For those that don’t know I am scared stiff of cockroaches – yes, I know, highly illogical but hey – I’m a girl heeheh). Unfortunately the spry little crawler managed to evade Daves murderous efforts 3 times! In the end he was super annoyed, there was no way I was getting any sleep and the cocky was having a win. Then finally we killed the sucker and I could relax and try to sleep.

Oh no – not to be. It turns out that every night there is a chorus of barking and howling dogs that roam the village and literally do not stop until dawn. They must have been quite on key because randomly a pig and a buffalo would also join the choir. I swear, by 1am I was fit to kill. Of course, like most things you eventually get too tired to hear it anymore and drift off to sleep.

But all that said, the next morning broke clear and crisp and outside our window the Himalayas poked their snowy heads just to make it all ok. (Apparently it was the first time they’d seen them in about a month so we were just lucky (?) heheh).

So for those that think that travel is all flash hotels and swanky meals, it might be for some, but not for the intrepid budget travellers 🙂

Let me just add, not every night is like that. As I type this I am sitting on my hotel balcony, high on a ridge overlooking a river. No idea what the night will bring but hey, the view is great 😉

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

Be Sociable, Share!
3 Comments

Surprising mail

When we were in Sri Lanka we met a man with a fish (see previous blog). I took his photo and he asked me to send it to him. He spoke very little English and I speak no Sinhalese but I managed to copy down something phonetically that I hoped was his address and sent him off the photo with fingers crossed that it would reach him. And it did!!!!

Yesterday my mate at home sent me these piccys of a letter that turned up at her address (which I had used as the return address on the envelope). I have blanked out his address and the girls faces in the interests of preserving privacy (which I hope you understand) but I just wanted to share something that for me puts a big smile on my dial. Love it that something so simple worked out so well.

letter

Such a lovely letter 🙂

 

girls A fathers pride and joy xoxo

So I guess now I just need to come up with a photo of Dave and me to return to him with thanks 🙂

Be Sociable, Share!
3 Comments