And a few more….
A few photos from India, Nepal and Thailand
Landing back in Thailand was one of the most anticipated and relaxing moments of my travels so far, it’s not that I didn’t love my time in India and Nepal but it is a really exhausting experience. My primary reason for heading back to Bangkok this time was to finally sort out my US visa, with an appointment at the US embassy scheduled right in the middle of the time I had planned to be in Myanmar I made the tough decision to scrap my Myanmar trip. I try not to do regrets too much, but this is probably the biggest regret I do have of my whole trip. I originally planned to travel to Myanmar with Ben & Paul, two Tasmanian guys I met the last time I was in Bangkok, the good thing was that they were leaving from Bangkok to Myanmar, so when I got back in to the city they were there too and we got to hang out again for a few days before they headed onwards.
Along with being in Bangkok for my visa I also needed to decide where to head next, every day I seemed to settle on a different country, the options were Philippines, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Indonesia, Hong Kong, Vietnam or Japan. After alot of soul searching and recommendations I realised that after 6 months in Asia I needed a change, despite a very tempting offer to go and stay in Tasmania I finally settled on heading to a country and city I have always wanted to visit, Vancouver, Canada. The bonus of this would also be that I’d be halfway to my summer destination in Pennsylvania. Tickets booked, I was set, leaving me a few more weeks in Thailand to fill before I left for the final time on this trip. Before I made any more plans I needed to get my US visa sorted, surprisingly it was the easiest and most straightforward part of the process, the staff at the embassy were friendly and helpful and my visa was granted no problems. The next piece of good news came when Ellie & Jess who I travelled with India contacted me to let me know they were headed to Koh Phangnan for the full moon party and whether I wanted to meet them down in the islands. Up until now I had avoided the islands of Thailand, mainly because I was worried that it may tarnish my view of Thailand as I was expecting the islands to have been ruined by the western tourist market. I bit the bullet and booked my overnight bus ticket to Koh Samui and headed off the next day. After a couple days chilling on the beaches of Samui the girls arrived and we were headed on to Koh Phangnan, which I was pretty glad about as Koh Samui had very much lived up to my expectation of a tourist hole. Another good piece of news was that our Norwegian friend Ben who we also travelled with in India had got fed up of India and on impulse had bought a flight to Thailand and was heading down to meet us for the full moon party.
On the ferry over we got approached by a German lady who now lives on Koh Phangnan and said that we looked like the type of people that would like to stay outside the chaos of Haad Rin (the main party town where the full moon party is held), and she recommended some beach huts about 10 mins outside of Haad Rin. She even called from the ferry and booked us in and we all shared a taxi at the other end. The place we ended up at was beautiful, cheap and exactly what we were looking for, we could get in to town to party then chill out in hammocks on our secluded beach. So our first night was to be a quiet one, we thought we’d head in to town and check out Haad Rin and the beach where the full moon party was to be held, a few buckets (thai cocktails which come in bucket form) later and we’re partying hard on the beach. The next morning I am regretting the buckets from the night before, I’m also struggling in the hammock as it’s giving me motion sickness. Knowing that tonight is the big night the only thing I can do is eat my way through it. After Ben finally arrives we get ourselves ready for the night ahead. Now I want to say that the ‘full moon party’ lived up to the hedonistic, mammoth extravaganza that it is billed as, but it was actually alot less crazy than I imagined it. We had a great night, the buckets kept us going, the different fire performances were impressive and it was great being with old travel friends, so a great night allround. If people want to party hard I would say that Vang Vieng is much more full on, and even the Palolem, India knew how to throw an epic party that was more impressive than the full moon. We spent a couple more days recovering and relaxing on our beach in hammocks, swimming and eating, then it was time to head on to Koh Tao, another island a couple hours ferry journey away. Although we never got to explore Koh Phangnan extensively it was a really beautiful island, that although the point at Haad Rin has arguably been ruined by the monthly FMP when backpackers from far and wide descend on the island, other areas have not succumb to the negatives of tourism and have retained their natural beauty.
Koh Tao for me was a last chance whilst in Asia and potentially my whole trip to enjoy a hot sunny beach, the weather didn’t disappoint, with temperatures touching 40°c most days, and some of the nicest unspoilt beaches of my whole trip to enjoy it made for a great few days. We did some trekking, swimming, snorkelling and generally enjoyed lazy days in the sun. Koh Tao is known as less of a party island and a great diving base, which made it a great place to spend a few days. It was now time to say farewell to our Norwegian friend Ben and leave him to fend for himself, considering the injuries he’s sustained since, we should probably have forced him to come with us. Finally the time came to get our ferry and night bus back to Bangkok, the bus was scheduled to get back in to Bangkok at 7am, at 3am we were woken to be told we had arrived already!! Now there are times when you’re grateful for a journey being shorter than scheduled, not the case when it arrives at 3am in the morning. This was one of the few times in my life I have been grateful for 24hr McDonald’s, which is where we headed to and camped out at until I sorted out our hostel, who kindly allowed us to sleep on the dining room floor until our room was ready in the morning. It’s amazing how travelling gives you innate ability to fall asleep anywhere, even if it is a rock hard stone floor.
Today was also the day Peter, my friend Julie’s younger brother arrived in Bangkok. I’m not allowed to refer to him as Julie ‘s brother anymore as he wants to be considered as a friend in his own right, I think after the crazy few days we spent in Bangkok he can have that at least. So Pete joined Ellie, Jess and myself in exploring the city and its nightlife. After Ellie & Jess left to head on to Bali we moved to the notorious Khoa San Road, which if you have read my previous posts is my least favourite part of Bangkok, but it is a fun place to party. The best thing for me heading up there is the boat journey we get up the river which takes us past all the major temples and some beautiful scenery all for 15 baht (approximately 20 pence).
Along with spending some time with Pete, one of the things I was looking forward to the most being back in Bangkok this time was being able to catch up with Rob and Colette who both happened to be in the city before flying home to the UK and USA respectively. I travelled northern Thailand, Laos and Cambodia with Rob for over 6 weeks in the end, and I met Colette initially in Pai and then at various points through Laos, Cambodia and Thailand. It was really special that we could all meet up and see each other before we all left, especially as we all arrived in Asia at similar times and done so much together and also so many different things on our different routes. I know that both Rob and Colette are massively missing SE Asia since they made it home which I can only agree with. So we had one final blow out on Khoa San rd, ironically Rob’s first impressions of Pete were quote “he’s a liability”, which made me laugh alot as that was my general impression of Rob every day I travelled with him!! Pots and kettles, Rob!!
After a farewell with Pete, leaving him to go it alone to Cambodia, I headed off for my flight to Canada.
I’m on a mission to get my blog up to date over the next week for two reasons:
Firtsly, I know my mum really likes reading what I am up to, and today she had the first of two major operations in a week on her spine, so hopefully she’ll get to read these updates. The first operation went well, I’m sorry I can’t be there, but thinking about you. The next operation is next week so I’ll hopefully be up to date by then so you can read them all. Get well soon xx
And secondly, at the weekend I will be starting back at Round Lake Camp and I’m not sure how much free time I will have to blog. I also won’t be blogging about my time at camp for professional reasons as it is a work environment and it wouldn’t be appropriate to blog about it. What I will hopefully do though is some general interest posts about other things I’ve seen and observed as I’ve been travelling.
Ok, so after we safely made it back to Kathmandu we had a few days to chill out before we both headed off. I had a flight out of Kolkata booked, stupidly I hadn’t spent too much time looking at the logistics of getting from Kathmandu over the border in to India and then train to Kolkatta. The thought of three days travelling on buses and trains through Nepal and India on my own didn’t appeal, so I took the easier and only slightly more expensive option, I booked an hour flight.
On our first night back in Kathmandu coincidentally our friend Marie was also travelling through Kathmandu, so we met up for dinner with them. Marie first travelled to Nepal a good few years ago and volunteered in a local school supported by the trekking company Himalayan Encounters, since then she’s been back many times, and on one occasion met with Gemma and hence how we came to use Himalayan Encounters for our expedition. During this time Marie has built up a really good friendship with Niraj, one of the co-owners of Himalayan Encounters. So that night we ended up out drinking with Niraj in Kathmandu and Nepalese hospitality did not fail as he paid for all our drinks and then very kindly offered Gemma and myself to stay at another of his businesses, a luxury farm retreat in the hills about 3 hours outside of Kathmandu as his guest. Not one to turn down a freebie, we set off the next day.
The luxury farmhouse was an amazing way to end our time in Nepal. The farmhouse was based in a small village which tourists would never usually access, in beautiful surroundings, a local temple to explore and the most spectacular views across the valley we were in. We were waited on hand and foot by the friendliest staff, and the food was without doubt the best food I tried during my whole time on the Indian subcontinent. Then came the sad goodbyes, as Gemma headed off in her taxi to the airport it was time to go it alone again.
Having been on the road so long without seeing a familiar face it was so nice to spend a few weeks with Gemma and doing a trek of the magnitude we achieved and being able to share it with someone I already know was great. Stupidly Gemma, Marie and I agreed to head back to Nepal in a couple years to make a summit attempt on one of the peeks that looks up to Everest. Anyone that wants to join us, you’re more than welcome.
I’ve already blogged about my eventful stay in Kolkatta on my ‘Indian rant’ update, so I’ll skip that. So it was time to head back once again to Bangkok, my home away from home.
So first thing I notice after landing in Lukla, it’s pretty chilly. For someone who has been chasing the sun for the past 9 months anything below 25°c is deemed cold. The route we will be taking to Everest base camp is an extended route that goes via Gokyo Lakes which are the highest lakes in the world, then the plan was to trek over the Cholo Pass, notorious for trekkers simply disappearing. The plan was for this to take 17 days with a contingency day, which as it turned out we needed. From Lukla, there are no roads, the only form of transport in and out is trekking, by horse or by helicopter (however the helicopters can only go part of the route as the air gets to thin for them to stay in the air, three months before we arrived a helicopter crashed on our route, are you sensing a theme yet on Nepalese air safety?).
Whilst trekking Gemma, myself and a Brazilian couple who were trekking with us were supported by two guides and two porters who carry our main bags in between the teahouses we stay in each night. Our pace for the 17 days is relatively slow, partly to allow us to acclimatize to the change in oxygen levels as there are points on route where oxygen is only 50% of what it is at sea level, and partly because with this level of oxygen our bodies can’t physically go any faster. Our first day is relatively short as we trek to our first tea house in Phakding, which is actually lower than the airport, the general rule with altitude in the mountains is climb high, sleep low, so basically to help acclimatization you sleep lower than the highest point you trekked that day. The route along with the dramatic scenery as we flew in made for an amazing first day. The following day we were warned that we would be asscending nearly 1000metres to a village called Namche Bazaar, during the morning we travelled alongside a spectacular river, across suspension bridges which we shared with yaks and horses and then came the slog up. It took us a good few hours, but the knowledge that we would be having an acclimatization day the following day where we would be staying in Namche Bazaar kept our spirits up. We arrived in Namche Bazaar (3450 metres) and I swiftly packed away my shorts for the first time in 9 months. We got in to the town on the right day as it was the weekend markets, all of the products that were on sale had been carried up from Lukla to be sold by local porters. Local porters are often referred to in the west as Sherpas, however the word Sherpa actually refers to a tribe who’s heritage originates in Tibet, often the porters and guides have Sherpa heritage and thus the name has become synonymous with those people working in the mountains.
Arriving in Namche I had the first feeling of things to come as I started to feel nauseous and had a banging headache, this fortunately abated overnight. These two symptoms are the first two sysmptoms you are likely to experience if you go on to suffer with altitude sickness. On our acclimatization day we got the opportunity to visit a local museum, the emergency airstrip and also got to go watch a documentary film about Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay, the first to people to summit Everest. One of the first things I sensed and witnessed was the spirituality in the Khumbu region, sadly I feel that alot of this has to do with amount of people that have died in this region. There are constant reminders in the form of monuments, graves, and stupers along the route from the moment you get off the aeroplane in Lukla. Many locals in the region believe the mountain to be cursed due to the amount of people that have died in the region. Shockingly even today for every 10 people that successfully summits Everest one person dies, and that doesn’t even include those that die in air crashes, landslides, or as in the case of a group ahead of us people that die due to altitude sickness at lower levels such as Base Camp.
Every day you asscend the scenery gets more and more spectacular as you begin to move closer to the tree line and beyond. The following day was no exception as we head onwards to our next teahouse in Dole (3900 metres). It was also the first time we got to get a glimpse of the majestic mount Everest, surrounded by all the lesser mountains, surprisingly Everest actually looks smaller than many of the mountains that surround it. During the morning on the climb up to our lunch stop the effects of the altitude took their toll on me, my head felt like it was abouts to explode, all I wanted to do was stop and vomit. It was time for me to start taking a drug called diamox, which helps you breath deeper and absorb more oxygen in to your red blood cells. Amazingly within half an hour I felt like a different person, whether it was psychosomatic, the diamox or the local cure of garlic soup I will never know, but I remained taking the drug until I returned to Namche on the way back down (I didn’t carry on eating garlic soup). The weather up till now had been great with sunny warm days, as soon as that sun went down the temperature would soon drop to freezing very quickly. The teahouses would heat one central room, the dining room from a furnace in the middle, the fuel they used was generally an innovative and cheap fuel source, Yak shit, which usually led to a particularly pungent smell in the dining room!
The following day we were scheduled to hit our first destination, Gokyo lakes, which despite another 1000 metre climb felt relatively easy compared to previous days. The hard work was worth it when we came upon the first of seven of the Gokyo lakes, each getting bigger and more spectacular as we got higher and arrived in to Gokyo (4790 metres). The biggest of the lakes overlooked by Gokyo Peak was frozen over and surrounded by snow capped mountains on all sides. We were to spend two nights in Gokyo, again to acclimatize and also to summit Gokyo Peak (5380 metres). Despite waking to pretty poor weather and unlikely to get a glimpse of Everest from Gokyo Rhi due to the overcast clouds we still made the attempt at the peak. After a hard few hours slog, with four or five false summits we made it to the top, and although disappointed that we couldn’t see Everest we had an amazing view of the surrounding lakes and Himalayan mountain ranges stretching out further south in to Nepal and north in to Tibet. Looking back this was the hardest day of the trek. Despite overcoming the issues with altitude I now had managed to pick up a nasty cold which I had accepted I had no chance of shaking off until I got down to a lower altitude.
The next day was stunningly warm and sunny, perfect for our trek across one of the highest glaciers in the world. The scenery was like what you would expect if you landed on the moon, and the cracking sounds you can hear as you walk across this slab of ice that is hundreds of metres thick is slightly disconcerting. It was a relatively short day in preparation for our attempt at climbing over the Chola pass the following day with a 4am setting off time scheduled we headed to bed pretty early. At 4am we were woken to disappointing news, overnight there had been a snow storm, with the snow still falling at 9am our guides made the decision that we couldn’t climb the Chola Pass. This meant we had to descend 1000 metres and take a different route to base camp, which would take an extra two days. This was mentally one of my toughest days, and probably the only day where I genuinely considered quiting and heading back down. I had a cold, felt like shit and had a 12 hour trek ahead of me in snowfall, I was not a happy chappy that day. One of the other symptoms associated with high altitude is a short temper, thankfully I was travelling with Gemma as we were both able to see when each other were starting to flag. After a good nights sleep at lower altitude and a returned appetite I was fighting fit to carry on and make it to base camp. We spent the next couple of days trekking along the oxygen rich tree line through Pangboche (3930 metres), Dingboche (4410 metres), getting amazing views of arguably the most spectacular mountain in the region, Ama Dablam. Then we began to ascend again through Dughla (4620 metres) and on to Lobuche (4910 metres). Unfortunately news reached us that a day ahead of us German trekker completing the same route as us had succumb to severe altitude sickness and died at our next night stop. Its things like this that remind you of the shear power of nature. I was thankful that we had such great guides, as I genuinely believe that if any of our group had shown severe signs they would have got us down that mountain asap, which is the only cure for severe altitude sickness.
Finally the day had arrived to make it to Everest Base Camp, it was to be as long day of trekking leaving at 5am, stopping for breakfast in Gorak Shep (5140 metres) heading on to our ultimate goal Everest Base Camp (5356 metres) for lunch and then back to Gorak Shep for the night. We lucked out on the morning trek, despite trekking through some small snow showers the weather cleared enough for us to get some great glimpses of the great mountain. Ironically there is no direct view of Everest from base camp. After we arrived at EBC which is positioned on a glacier next to the Khumbu fall, an ice formation that is where climbers start their ascent of Everest the snow started to fall, and fall heavily. It was time for us to leave with a sense of achievement and a full belly. After an horrific nights sleep in Gorak Shep where the altitude had me waking up every five minutes gasping for air we had three days to descend back to Lukla airport which had taken us 14 days to walk from. The walk back down felt amazing, not only did we get to see some different scenery we also got to visit an amazing Buddhist monastery in Tengboche and we got to drink beer again!!! It was amazing that for every 100 metres you descended your lungs feel like they’ve been inflated more and you feel great. The final morning it was time to say goodbye to our local guides and porters and fly back to Kathmandu. Aftet a particularly choppy flight where we seemed to fall from the sky on a number of occasions we landed back in to the warm, dusty chaos of Kathmandu.
It probably sounds dramatic to say that it was the hardest thing I have ever done both physically and mentally, but I can’t think of anything else I’ve done that was as hard for such a continual period. At the same time I got to see one of the most spectacular regions in the world and view the worlds tallest mountain close up. This will undoubtedly remain as one of the highlights of all my travels and probably my life.
This has been a long time coming, to be honest I’ve found it hard to motivate myself to sit down and write my blog for a couple reasons, firstly because I’ve been really busy going new places and meeting new people, but also because there is alot of similar things you do when you’re travelling that it becomes difficult to put a new spin on, things like visiting temples, heading out to the local market, trying a local beer, trying local food (on this score, for me it will be hard to beat Thailand for food).
I’m currently in Seattle and a week away from heading back to Round Lake Camp, which I first went to 11 years ago as a ropes instructor and met some amazing friends for the first time. Since I blogged last I have travelled through Nepal, headed back to Thailand, onwards to Vancouver, Canada and then travelled down in to the USA. It’s interesting that at the end of my time in Asia I was starting to feel it was the right time to head home, mainly because I have missed that regular contact with friends and family. I’ve made some amazing friends travelling, many of whom that I imagine like my time at RLC will become close friends for a long time to come, the only thing is is that you are constantly saying goodbye to people. Strangely though, having entered back in to the western world I’ve found that geographically and culturally speaking I’m missing Asia and Africa more than the UK. When you head off travelling you read so much about the culture shock entering developing countries, I actually found that refreshing, what I have really struggled with and still am is the culture shock coming back in to the western world. Maybe this means I will travel for longer, maybe it means that I’ll look for jobs abroad, I’m not too sure yet, but I’ve got the summer to decide.
Anyway, I’ve decided to skip the rest of my Indian travels, mainly because there wasn’t too much more to say, we visited a beautiful palace in Mysore (the home town of the band Raghu Dixit, if you don’t know them, check them out, they’re great), we went on a few more trains, we all got D&V from a palm leaf restaurant, we headed up to an coastal town called Gorkana in Karnataka and then on our final night Marius and I headed back to one of my favourite places, Palolem in Goa. Goa get’s alot of criticism for not being ‘real’ India, I would argue that Goa has got the balance right between development, infrastructure and culture and that’s why it gets the criticism as it doesn’t necessarily fill the romantic idea of what India should be like. Anyway, after a early morning flight at 4am, what country thinks 4am is a good time to schedule a flight? And going through the most chaotic airport I have ever seen when I had to show no fewer than 12 different officials my passport - I got my flight headed to Kathmandu, Nepal.
I was warned by my friend Gemma who I was meeting in Kathmandu to expect chaos when I got to the airport, I think it slipped her mind where I was travelling from. It was like going from shopping in Primark on a saturday afternoon to walking in to John Lewis mid week, the people were friendly, helpful and surprisingly organised, with 30 mins I was through and out the doors where I had a lovely surprise of Gemma waiting for me with a driver.
The first few days in Nepal we stayed in and around Kathmandu staying in Thamel, we visited a number of historical sites and some Stupers which are Buddhist sites of worship. Then it was time to board our 18 seater aeroplane and fly in to the Himalayan mountains of the Khumbu region. We were flying in to the notorious Lukla airport, known primarily as one of the most dangerous airports in the world, mainly due to the fact is built on the side of a mountain where the planes have to land going uphill and take off downhill. Since Gemma last travelled to Nepal two aeroplanes have crashed here killing all on board, since we left Nepal another plane has come down killing all on board in similar conditions in another region of Nepal. Not surprisingly for the majority of the flight Gemma assumed the brace position, I’m not sure it helped that she was sitting next to a guide from another group that chose to go in to deep prayer for the whole flight. Youtube Lukla airport and you will see why Gemma wasn so grateful when web had touched down safely.
Next stop on our trip was the city of Bengaluru (Bangalore). We only had one full day here, but we crammed in plenty. Bengaluru is India’s most technologically advanced city with many IT companies being based here, it is also the hub of where many of the UK call centres are based. The city therefore is much wealthier than other cities in India, and that is evident as soon as we arrived here.
Our plan for the day actually revolved around sport, Roland and myself wanted to watch the first Grand Prix of the season, Marius wanted to catch the Manchester United match and the whole of the country were focused on the India vs Pakistan one day cricket match. We started the day wandering through the parks of the city and it became apparent that the whole of the city were out playing cricket, every spare inch of the parks were full of men playing with anything that could loosely resemble a cricket set.
We fortunately were able to find a sports bar that was showing all the different sporting events and so figures we could base ourselves there for the day and then head out in between to see the city and do some chores that we all needed to do. Our one key chore for the day was finding a pharmacy as all our first aid supplies were running low, thanks mainly to Evan’s escapade in Goa and Marius burning his leg on the exhaust of a motorbike.
First up the most important part of the day, watching the Grand Prix. After this we headed to the local Aquarium and then to the Science Museum. I think to be honest I have seen more exciting things in Gemma’s fish tank in London than we did in the Aquarium, but the Science Museum was really good fun and interesting.Next up was time to find a pharmacy, which was surprisingly harder than it sounds. In the end we decided that our only option was to get a tuk tuk to take us to one, we begrudgingly got in, just waiting for a scam to come our way. To our great surprise the tuk tuk driver took us to a pharmacy which was open, when we then got back in to the tuk tuk unsurprisingly the driver then refused to take us anywhere but his brothers silk shop!! After trying to get in to another tuk tuk, who then decided to try and take us to his cousins shop, we decided that walking was the better option, even though we didn’t have a clue where we were.
After re-orientating ourselves to the city, we headed back for the Manchester United match and the rest of the cricket. The atmosphere in the bar was pretty exciting by this point as the cricket match was pretty evenly poised. After a day in Bangalore it felt like there wasn’t too much more to see in the city, but none the less, it was a really nice place to spend a day, but we were ready to head on the next morning to Mysore, where we were planning to meet up with Ben, Jess & Ellie who we’d only left a couple days before.
I know I haven’t got round to blogging about Nepal and our Everest trek yet, but noticed this on The Guardian website today, the trek that he did is pretty much the first half of what Gemma and I did when we were there. We went to Gokyo lakes and then went on to Everest Base Camp.
So time to be positive about India for a while. Our next stop was an area known as a natural wildlife sanctuary up in the hills. The plan was pretty flexible, we figured we’d get there and then make it up as we went along.
After a few hours over the hills on some pretty spectacularly scenic roads we arrived in the dusty town of Dandeli. Nick and I went off on a mission to find somewhere to stay, pretty proud of ourselves we managed to get us a deal to go camping up at a ranch, with trekking, hiking, rock climbing and caving and even better food thrown in too. Even to this day none of us have worked out the difference between ‘trekking’ and ‘hiking’!! So after a decent lunch, raiding the local bottle shops for some rum and a mammouth game of frisbee with the local school children in the main bus depot, we headed off in to the hills.
Our first activity after arriving at the ranch was a night hike in to the forest. We were all excited at the potential to see a Tiger or Leopard in its natural habitat, our hopes were dashed before we even left the ranch when our guide told us it’s been 12 years since a Tiger was seen in this region, and it was the wrong time of year for Leopards, oh well. As it turned out, we the only bit of wildlife we saw that night were flying squirrels. It was all worth the effort though once we got back to the ranch and found our buffet meal (which was some of the best food I had in India) was all ready for us.
The following day we headed off to an area to do some caving. It was a really beautiful valley with a range of different caves from beginner through to a pretty tight one right at the end of the day, which I chose to pass on after nearly getting stuck just on the way in. All round it was a great day out in the countryside.
Our next mission was to head on to Hampi, a city of temples in the province of Karnataka - central India. We had booked ahead for our train, all was going well until we arrived at the station to an announcement that our train was delayed maybe by as much as a few hours. After an hour of waiting we were pretty pleased to see what we believed was our train pulling in. So we jumped on and we were off, unfortunately all our reserved seats were full, after half an hour of trying to sort it out, we realised that this wasn’t our train, it was the train that runs an hour after our original booking. Fortunately we were enough entertainment for the locals on the train that everyone shoved up and invited us to sit with them, at which point our group became the entertainment for the whole carriage for the rest of the journey. I think when westerners travel on trains in India, the vast majority choose to book the 1st class air conditioning carriages, in our case we weren’t booked in to those carriages. It therefore was a novelty to have so many westerners sharing the carriage with the locals, who were some of the friendliest people we met during my whole time in India.
After arriving in Hampi at night, we could already feel that we were going to love this city. The people were welcoming, our first meal was great and our guesthouse overlooked the main temple which is the central point for the town.
We spent the next three or four days hiring bikes, exploring the temples that the city has to offer. There are over 2,000 temples in Hampi, so we obviously weren’t able to visit them all, but we managed to go to some of the main ones. The only thing that I can compare it to that I have seen on my travels so far in Angkor Wat in Cambodia (which were also originally built as Hindu Temples). However Hampi had a much more genuine and spiritual feel to the place. Alot of the temples are still in use as places of worship and the balance between the benefits of tourism and the dangers of the area being ruined by tourism are at present being kept in check. Looking back on it, I think that if Angkor Wat was managed more like the way Hampi I would probably have enjoyed the experience much more.
Spending some time in Hampi allowed me to continue to learn much more about the Hindu faith and learn some more of the stories that build up the religion. Maybe this focus on retaining that historical link is why for me Hampi was my favourite place in India, and combined was actually the most impressive of all the different temples that I have visited whilst in Asia (which I would imagine is getting close to the 200 mark by now).
It was time for the group to get smaller once again as some of the group were headed home whilst the rest of us were headed south in different directions. For me next stop was Bangalore…
Ok, so I don’t think I’ve been too negative so far in my blogging, but now I have left the Indian Sub-continent I need to rant about it and then hopefully the rest of my blogging about India can focus on the positive stuff. Just to start with I loved India, but with the same amount of passion I hated India.
So why am I ranting, ok well after Gemma left to head back home from Nepal I headed onwards to Kolkata to fly back to Bangkok. The thought of heading back to India after Nepal was not one I was looking forward to. Not that I hadn’t enjoyed India first time round, but I just wasn’t sure that I could mentally cope with the thought of being on guard constantly (if only for two days) of every body I spoke to trying in some way to scam me. So I figured suck it up, it will be fine.
On arriving at Kolkata airport my renewed positive attitude was sucked out of me within 2 mins. I intentionally booked a hotel right outside the gates of the airport as I knew I would be flying from there in less than two days. So as usual a taxi driver agrees to take me, “come with me, I’ll take you”, my response, “how much?” - “just come with me sir, I’ll give you a good price”, me: “I don’t want a good price, I want a price that has numbers” - I left him to it and walked away. Next up, the next taxi driver offered to take me there for US $20 - its rare that I swear at people, but he obviously thought that I had ‘western mug’ written across my forehead, so I told him where he go shove himself in not such a polite manner. Finally after wandering around I managed to get a reasonable price. On pulling up at the guesthouse the driver claims he has no change and expects to keep it, I have to tell him that he needs to get out and get some otherwise he doesn’t get paid for the journey that he’s just taken me on, after 5 mins of him umming and ahhing, he finally goes and gets change. Again, I am wishing I didn’t have to come through India to get back to South East Asia.
So after that I decide that rather than explore Kolkata I am going to keep a low profile and do some small chores but stay around the airport.
Next stop back to the airport, or as I prefer to think of it, the zoo. So the Airasia staff try and encourage a queue, I don’t think I have once seen a queue in the two months that I have spent on the sub-continent. So subsequently it fails and every Indian person decides to try and get served at the same time resulting in a massive huddle of hands at the check in desk.This is the same thing that happens at train stations, bus stations, ATM’s, in fact anywhere that needs a queue. It seems that basic manners have bypassed them as they’re growing up.
Next stop for me the currency exchange. You are not allowed to take out Indian currency from India, so therefore you have to change it before you leave or you can’t change it. First off they didn’t have any Thai currency to change it in to, ok so how about pounds, no pounds, ok I’ll settle for US dollars, success!! After five, yes, five forms later where I have detailed everything from my place of birth to my blood type (ok, the form didn’t ask for my blood type), I finally get my cash in a currency that I didn’t really want.
Next stop waiting for the plane in the departure lounge. Well an Indian airport departure lounge keeps you on your toes as there are no boards telling you which gate your plane leaves from, but they do have a plasma screen showing a bollywood film (just in case you do miss your flight, at least you’ve got something to watch). I fortunately noticed a queue starting to form (maybe this was the first queue I have seen in India), this was my flight. After getting on the flight I couldn’t help feel sorry for the all female flight attendants as the Indian men were treating it like an Indian bus, getting up and around to talk to anyone and everyone, even after being asked to sit down for take off. The guy behind me felt the need to get up on at least a 5 minutely basis, each time using the chair in front (the one I was sitting on) to give himself leverage to pull himself up, taking clumps of my hair every time he did so. I came close to going balistic at a man that decided that it was appropriate to hock up his chest and then spit in to the central aisle of the aeroplane.
As the plane touches down before the flight has even stopped moving everyone is up shoving their way to the front of the plane to get off first. I get told without words but with a rude hand gesture to get out of the way so the people next to me can join the rabble shoving to the front. After I move, I sit back down and think that I haven’t been happier that I am back in South East Asia.
I think although this was just a day or so experience, it pretty much summarizes the experience I have seen of a lot of whilst in the sub-continent. Maybe I am making a naive judgement to say that it is these sorts of behaviours that are the cause of the constant chaos in India. But part of me from my experience feels that there is a culture that likes the constant chaos, as it means that alot of things go under the radar and people can get away with as much or as little as they like. I loved my time in India, but every day was exhausting have to trawl through the bullshit and actually find your way around without the laziness and rudeness of a large portion of the people you come into contact with getting you down.
Rant over, from now on I’ll focus on all the positive stuff we did and saw in India.
I’m sorry I’ve been really bad at updating this recently but my aim is to get completely up to date by the end of the weekend, but there is a Grand Prix on this weekend so I may get distracted. I’m just abouts to get a taxi to the airport in Kathmandu to take me to Kolkatta, but I’ll try and get some blogging in before I go.
So I last left off on the night bus from Mumbai to Goa. This would have been a surprisingly good experience, the buses were of a good standard and it left on time, things were going well so far. That was until an Indian man came and sat next to me and seemed to think from his actions that he had booked both of the seats we were both sitting on. With no sense of personal space this guy didn’t take the hint when I kept having to move his arms and legs off of my side of the seat, neither did he have any idea that coughing in someones face the whole night long wasn’t particularly polite. I have to admit at one point during the journey it took alot of my reserve not to stand up and give a hygiene lesson to everyone on the bus about putting their hand over their mouth whilst coughing their guts up and that spitting their phlegm in to the middle of the isle was actually very disgusting.
Other than potentially contracting TB on the night bus, all in all we arrived on time and safely to Goa and Anjuna Beach. The final couple of hours of the journey we drove through some of the most beautiful jungle areas in Goa, and if I had more time I would have planned to head back there.
Anjuna beach is in the northern part of Goa and is famous for where the hippies of the ‘Beatles’ era descended, it’s now somewhere that initially doesn’t make a massive impression on you. The beach is very mediocre, the town is pretty dirty but after spending a few days there, it started to grow on me. In Anjuna two of the main backpacking hostels were next door to each other, and after a day our small group of three had expanded to around 12 of us. This was a good number to have as there was a festival to celebrate. The Hindu festival of Holi is celebrated at the end of the winter season on the full moon, despite Goa having a predominantly Catholic population, the people in there do not hold back on the celebrations.
The festival is known as the festival or colour, basically as everyone throughout the day throws coloured paint at each other. As you can see from the photos above, we all got in the spirit, dressed in white and got out in to the town to throw paint at each other all day (paint that takes a good week to get out of your skin). After a good few hours of paint throwing we all had a few hours on the beach before we continued the partying at a hilltop event put on especially for the festival.
The following day, after collecting a couple of Norwegians that joined our group we all decided to head to the South of Goa to another beach place called Palolem.
Palolem is in contrast to Anjuna an extremely clean and organised beach resort with a beautiful beach. Despite it being alot more westernised, it was a good example of how India can work without the constant chaotic environment. We stayed in beach huts just back from the beach which were ideal for what we needed and pretty cheap too.
We basically ended up spending four nights in Palolem just relaxing and enjoying the chilled out vibe of the place. We headed to a cliff top silent disco, which was one of the best parties I have had along my travels and the following day we chartered a boat to take us to a secluded beach for the day.
At this point Nick and Evan decided to go exploring up the cliffs, after about an hour Nick came back and told us that Evan had taken a fall and was pretty badly hurt up on the rocks. After getting there and patching up a pretty big gash in Evans leg we tried our best carrying him down, in the end our attempts failed and Evan had to painfully shuffle down the hillside. After getting our boat to take us back to Palolem and the helpful lifeguards taking us to the local hospital, I had to step in to stop the doctors in the hospital stitching Evan up with needles that they couldn’t show me were clean. After the doctor refused to open new needled to sew up Evans wound we were taken to a private hospital with 24hr emergency facilities.The 24hr emergency facilities however did not include Sundays, so there was no doctor and they only they only believed that the doctor would be in for half and hour on the Monday. After losing faith in the health care available I did my best to patch up Evans leg with the stuff I had. After a day contemplating the best option, Evan decided to keep his wound clean and wait until he headed to Dubai to get his leg looked at properly. It certainly would have given any Brit moaning about the quality of the NHS a big reality check.
Evans injury prompted the whole group to start utilising the ‘clinic of Neil’ - I ended up with an evening clinic session of cuts, sickness, burns etc etc. I was tempted to start billing peoples insurance companies. At least I can say I’ve achieved a bit of nursing this year.
So time on the beach was coming to an end, we all had plans to head to a place inland in the Karnataka province called Hampi, but rather than head there straight off we decided to break up the journey and head to a ‘wildlife reserve’ in a place called Dandeli.
And for today that is where I will leave you. Only a month or so behind where I am now.