A Travellerspoint blog

End of India pt.1

So to Nepal....!

McLeod Ganj, home of the Dalai Lama and Tibetan government in exile, is another beautiful Himalayan foothill town. We spent five nights here relaxing, doing a bit of yoga, walking up and down A LOT of hills, learning about Buddhism and Tibet, and a massive highlight - hearing the Dalai Lama speak!

Amazingly we'd just turned up a couple of days before he was due home to give three days of teachings - what are the chances?! Some people must plan their trip around getting to see him but we just rocked up, got our Lama passes, and got straight in - bloody brilliant! It was a fantastic experience and we even got right into the whole thing by watching Seven Years in Tibet the night before and making friends with a lovely Tibetan lady who then took us home for her mother to make us tsampa, a special Tibetan dish! It felt like we were actually IN Tibet, very cool.

We easily could have spent longer here, as with Manali, but unfortunately (or fortunately?) had to keep moving. So after a fantastically tasty Tibetan feast on our last night we prepared ourselves for the journey to Amritsar, home of the Sikh's holiest site - the Golden Temple.

We knew the journey was going to be a bit different as we were getting a public bus from McLeod to Pathankot where we would change to another bus to Amritsar. We'd bumped into some TOLFA girls who'd warned us we might have to put our own luggage on the roof which it turned out we did. So up we scrambled onto the roof of the most filthiest bus, somehow managed to yank our HUGE packs onto the roof, tied them on, then scrambled down in fear of our lives with the bus about to move at any second. Now, McLeod is up in the clouds and the mountain roads aren't the most securely paved in the world so we just had to sit and pray the bags would be there at the end. Also, neither of us are the tallest girls in the world, and while going through the 'getting bags from ground to roof' palava a TALL PERSON (male, western) stood by watching saying 'good for you girls' - tall people please take note that this is almost a sure way to get a smack.

Arriving in Pathankot we (again, stupidly, as we're in India) assumed it would be the end of the line. But oh no. With a shout of 'get up get up hurry hurry' and a point at the roof we had about 30 seconds to clamber up, untie the bags, and get back off. I felt like I was in the crystal maze or something! It was all very exciting! I ran up first but there was a huge tyre blocking our bags, the engine was revving, Lauren followed me up and got screamed at to 'move the tyre!!!' at which point her amazing strength of a bear came into play and she pulled it straight off. I untied the bags, we practically threw them down onto the driver, them jumped off. By the time I looked round the bus had gone. But we'd made it! We were covered in dirt, sweaty, hungry, thirsty, but still laughing. It was all so surreal!

At this point it was what felt about 40 degrees with the midday heat hitting us hard after that nice clear mountain air. We walked about five minutes to the next bus stand where we were so hungry we had our first real try of street food which felt like the best meal in the world. Even with black hands from the dirt! Luckily the next bus had a hold so we chucked our bags in there and settled for a few hours to Amritsar.

We were only in Amritsar for a couple of days, to visit the Golden Temple and to see the border closing ceremony between India and Pakistan. The Golden Temple is absolutely beautiful. I can't say enough about the beauty of it, and think for me it equals that of the Taj. It was packed from daybreak to sunset, and is a working temple with more than 60,000 visitors a day and also a kitchen feeding that amount of people each day too. We were again in many photos though this time people took to throwing their babies at us to hold in the photos too. Seriously, if they knew me they would not do that, I think I nearly dropped a couple and I'm sure the children will look at these photos in the future and ask 'who's the weirdo in the bright orange bandana sweating like a pig?'. I should just say, the orange bandana was not a fashion statement, everyone has to cover their heads as Sikh religion dictates and these were what we're sold for tourists. Nice.

The Attari/Wagah border ceremony was SO much fun. It's a ceremony where India and Pakistan both try to outdo each other in pomp, dress, stamping, headgear and bellowing, it's hilarious. As foreigners we got almost front row seats which was great, it was very Month Python with the kicking and stamping, I loved it! It was almost like a football game with each countries supporters on each side of the gate, cheering, playing music, dancing in the stands (well maybe not a football game but similar!)

From there we had a loooooong 24 hour train journey half way across the country to Varanasi which I was so excited about. I couldn't wait to get out on the Ganges and see all the Ghats and the craziness. The journey was surprisingly okay, we'd booked third class AC so we each had a bed with blankets supplied and air con. It went pretty quick as of course everyone was intrigued by us so we had lots of chats, lots of photos, had food shared with us, it was really quite nice. It Is pretty mental to think though that in 24 hours we were still only half way across India. It really does make you realise how vast the country is on a journey like that.

Unfortunately Varanasi was not quite so nice. We were expecting dirty and smelly, but as soon as we got there we felt uneasy, there wasn't a nice feeling about it. Even the dogs were angry and the cows moody with my first cow headbutt as we walked past with our backpacks through the sweltering packed maze of the old city.

We were supposed to stay three nights but after just one night and a day we were ready to sort our tickets out for moving on. It was a real shame. We ended up just staying for two nights and leaving early on the third day. We didn't get out on the river as despite many many boatmen saying they were going out and even after accepting the price of one guy and sitting there for 20 minutes, no one was boating as apparently the river was too high. So we only got to see the Ghat we were near which was still fantastic and crazy with some sights to be seen including an evening ceremony but not really what we wanted.

We left Varanasi feeling a bit let down, which having spoke to a couple of travellers since, also felt the same. Maybe I'd give it another chance at another time of year but I'm not sure if it would really be somewhere I'd be desperate to get back to. It really was a shame as it was our last Indian destination before Nepal so a bit sad to leave on a downer but we'll be back in a few weeks with new Indian spirit I'm sure. For now, onward to Pokhara where we should arrive this evening in front of the mighty Annapurna range where we'll be trekking very soon!!

Posted by kbenfield 03:41 Archived in India Comments (0)

Oh Manali!!

Manali Manali, you beautiful clean green Himalayan town with hot showers!!!!

We arrived in Manali dirty dusty tired and slightly jaded after our day in Delhi and a very bumpy overnight 'luxury' 14 hour bus ride. (I say this on reports from Lauren as I managed to sleep through the worst bits like when we were almost on our side with my head back mouth open - attractive) We were on guard after Delhi and when a dodgy looking guy approached us in a fake leather jacket, tracksuit pants, and smart shoes about his new guesthouse we were instantly suspicious. We said we'd have a quick look and it turned out to be the start of the best few days. The guesthouse was beautiful, Guddu and his family were the nicest people (the jacket was never seen again), the surroundings were amazing, the rooms were clean and the showers hot!!!

It was like heaven!! Such a welcome relief after the hustle and bustle and heat and sweat and noise of Rajasthan and Agra. We had total R & R at the foot of the Himalayas, it was bliss! 

Old Manali is a lovely little town, it has a real traveller vibe to it so its very chilled, in fact it felt like we'd left India completely. The people all had a definite Tibetan look about them and whereas further south my blonde hair is noticed, here it drew real open mouthed stares- especially after a good wash!

We spent a day exploring, wandering up to a temple deep in the woods, and another day we crossed the Beas River to visit the town of Vashist where we were very excited to get to go in some natural hot springs. 

Well. We'd packed our bikinis, towels, books to read (I honestly don't know WHAT we were thinking - we're in India for goodness sakes?!) and set off. After a fair old trek (uphill) we got pointed in the direction we needed only to come across a small concrete hole in the ground full of water and god knows what surrounded by what looked like prison issue metal fencing. Oh, complete with a guy chiselling away at some bricks next to it and some washing also being done in the springs. Not QUITE the peaceful springs overlooking the mountains we'd imagined!

Needless to say we gave our dip a miss and had beer pancakes and apple pie instead! Kinda balances out!

While here we also had to buy our rail ticket to get us to Varanasi next week. This turned out to be quite a stressful experience! The first day of trying the rail guy with his freaky eyes that didn't look at you shouted at us through his little hole in the wall to go away and come back the next day. It wasn't closing time so we stood and shouted back for a little while (and I may have stamped a bit)  but realised this was probably not really helping if we were to return the next day. And having 'Go! Go away' shouted at you over and over is slightly disparaging! We did return the next day and managed to get tickets though so at least it wasn't all for nothing.

We're currently on a mini bus heading to Dharamsala/McLeod Ganj, where Mr Lama (Dalai) is!! It's further up in the hills I think, we're about 2000m. The road is twisty turny narrow and bumpy. We've had a flat tyre and had to stop for a bit of a landslide. The driver is rude and the man in front of me has insisted in reclining his seat (seriously, how do I always end up behind these people?!?) BUT the scenery is amazing, the suns starting what i think will be a spectacular sunset and we're in the Himalayas baby!!!!!!

Posted by kbenfield 03:27 Archived in India Comments (1)

Not So Much Agro in Agra

To the Taj!!!

After another HORRIFIC overnight bus (I think the worst so far) we made it to Agra where we were expecting a lot of hassle after numerous warnings from other travellers and the guide books. We were pleasantly surprised to find the opposite to be true and got a rickshaw to our 'hotel' without any fuss at all. Unfortunately the hotel was a scuzz hole so we checked in and checked out half hour later after finding a nicer looking place round the corner. This also turned out to be pretty gross but for two nights it did - and it had a view of the Taj from the roof which was a huge selling point!

The first day in Agra we braved the local bus to Fatepur Sikri which was an old city in the 16th century and is now deserted. The buildings themselves were beautiful and it was so peaceful once inside the complex. It was huge and so calm compared to the outside bazaar and town. We had an incident with a crook trying to lead us astray and it got rather ugly as I had to shout in his face to leave us alone. He looked like skeletor and was really quite annoying. I think he may have then put a curse on me and finished with shouting for us English to never come back to India. How rude!! Luckily he was the only trouble we had and was soon forgotten.

The journey back from there into Agra was interesting as about 400 people tried to cram onto the bus which looked like it should've been taken out of service in 1950. Children were getting shoved through windows followed by bags followed by men, it was crazy! We managed to get a seat with a group of young Indian guys who I'm sure had planned it the whole way. They were really sweet and we exchanged English music with their Bollywood snippets and attempted conversation with lots of gesturing. The bus was about a million degrees so they definitely kept our minds off passing out from the heat!

The following morning we got up early to go to the Taj!!! It was fantastic!! Everything the guidebooks say and more. And it's so true that although it's an image you see your whole life which is beautiful, in reality it's so much more. We got there by 8am before the crowds arrived and although there were Indian tourists around, there were hardly any westerners. And no queue! It was a truly magnificent place, unlike anywhere else I've been. It's kept so clean and is so grand even in clouds it sparkles. The rain stopped as we arrived and although the blue sky didn't appear we were able to view it in comfort. I could easily have spent the whole day there relaxing on the grass looking up at this wonder of the world.

That afternoon we headed to Agra bear sanctuary which I was pretty disappointed with. Having been to Tolfa and seen the amazing work they do there I thought it would be a fantastic opportunity to see and interact with these gorgeous bears and hear about the work the organisation do. Unfortunately it was a true whistle stop tour and then we were shown out. No photos allowed, no close ups with the animals, it was a bit of a let down :(

The following morning we were leaving for Delhi on our first train journey so after watching the sun set over the Taj we got packed up. The train was unnervingly simple and we were convinced we had it wrong. We found the platform, found our seats (with a little help) and made it to Delhi without a hitch. We had booked a night bus straight out of Delhi that evening as we had no intention to spend any longer than necessary there however we did have one day.....

That's ok we thought, the guards said there are lockers at the bus station, we'll go straight there from the train leave our stuff and go explore. In the above sentence, remove the words lockers and bus station. The poor tuk tuk driver finally found where we needed to be after driving for half hour only for us to find it was a dirt road within a slum on a construction site! Not the ideal place to have to spend six hours or so!!!! 

Lauren promptly found us another tuk tuk and we headed for (don't judge) macdonalds!! We needed air con, we needed food, we needed something familiar!!! We actually ended up bypassing macdonalds and hit up dominoes instead. It was so good!!!

We then, after dragging out pizza for hours, made it back to the bus to come to Manali!!

We arrived here yesterday and it's BEAUTIFUL!! Nothing to report as yet, we're currently just chilling out in a cafe looking up at the Himalayas in the cleanest place we've been. It's pretty cold up here from what we've been used to and after showering you don't instantly start sweating - its amazing!!!! Totally in love with it here. Now, where's that masala chai I ordered.....

Posted by kbenfield 02:50 Archived in India Comments (0)

Upset Stomaches in Udaipur :(

(and home of the best museum ever)

So it turns out we didn't escape the curse of Delhi Belly however it decided to strike us down in beautiful Udaipur. At least, thank goodness, we were staying in a lovely hotel with a roof and sofas to lay on while recovering with water, dry toast and charcoal tablets - living life to the max! It may well have been a delayed effect of the horrific bus journey from Jodhpur. The bus left about two hours late, we didn't have a sleeper cabin so were in regular seats overnight, and the driver decided to try to make up the two hours by driving with his foot flat on the gas along a road which hadn't actually been built. Seriously, we were bouncing all over the place, there wasn't a chance of any sleep, I have no idea HOW the rest of the bus was sleeping - a pretty amazing feat on their part! To say the journey was a little precarious would be an understatement. 

We did actually turn to each other at about 3am when it was pitch black out, the bus was moving at about 100mph while tilting along the edge of god knows what and exchanged a look of pure fear!

But we made it! And luckily illness only hit us on the last day so we had three days to explore what is tipped to be the 'most romantic city in Rajasthan'. First off I have to disagree with this statement as although it was a beautiful city, I think Jaisalmer is FAR more romantic. Udaipur is where Octopussy was filmed - and don't they love that fact! Every restaurant/cafe/bar screens it religiously EVERY SINGLE NIGHT (although amazingly we managed to avoid it?)

It's built on a lake and is known as the lake city although unfortunately due to the pollution situation in India it's now a rather garish green in places and filled with trash. 

We took a cooking class on our first night there (no, this was not what caused the illness) and ate an Indian feast. I have to admit, I did prefer the eating part to the cooking, but after 6 hours preparing I think that's understandable! It was good fun though and we took it with a French couple we had met in Jaisalmer. 

We went to the city palace which I don't think was anything that special but we did also go to the government museum which was AMAZING!! It was SO BAD it was brilliant! The first exhibit, I kid you not, was a stuffed taxidermied (badly) kangaroo with the caption 'kangaroo standing on two feet' That alone was worth the 50rupee entry charge. There was also a dodgy looking monkey holding a light, a terrifying looking wild dog thing, a model of a heart - captioned 'heart, big size', a model of a grain of wheat, a variety of ways to tie a turban or to have your moustache, the list goes on. It was a definite highlight for me!!

We explored the town, wandered through the colourful buzzing spice markets, shopped (the shopping was dangerously good as my now even more overstuffed backpack found out), and relaxed on the roof a fair bit overlooking the city. It was a wonderful place, just a shame it ended on a bad note. 

Next stop Agra and the Taj!! Beyond excited!!!

Posted by kbenfield 02:43 Archived in India Comments (0)

Camels in the Golden City and Pink Gin in the Blue City

(Jaisalmer to Jodhpur)

We left lovely Pushkar last Wednesday on our first overnight sleeper bus. What a fun time THAT was! The journey wasn't actually too bad however getting onto the bus was interesting. I managed to trip while completely loaded up with backpack, holdall and camera on the way to the bus stop and once you start falling with that much weight there's no stopping. In fact there's no getting up either as I found out after it took Lauren and two passing Germans to get me on my feet again. I literally was like a turtle stuck on its back. Thank GOD it was dark. I'm sure it was most amusing to anyone who wasn't me.

After that minor embarrassment we found our bus only to be told we couldn't fit our packs in the hold and they'd have to come in our sleeper compartment with us. Again, fun times trying to fit that much luggage and two girls in above about thirty people crammed in the alleyway and another fifteen in the doorway. I have to admit, I did shout at a couple of bus men and shoved my hand luggage at them however this did seem to have the desired effect as they soon took my bags from me and put them up in our little area.

We awoke after a surprisingly okay sleep in beautiful Jaisalmer. Oh Jaisalmer how I love you. Dusty, hot, loud, hot, yellow, hot Jaisalmer. We were in early so checked into our hotel, had breakfast (banana nutella pancake not quite as good here as Pushkar but better masala chai) and went straight up to the fort. 

The fort is huge and rises from the desert upon its hill almost like a mirage. The town itself looks half finished, although so does much of India, but the fort looks over everything dominating any skyline. It draws you to it, you want to see it from all angles, and from within.

Inside is a total maze, a real labyrinth. It was like another city altogether with people living and working, yet more markets, restaurants, tuk tuks etc etc. There are still canons at some of the view points and there are steps leading to amazing view points. You really can see the whole city and beyond, and although it's a city of thousands when you're up there you're completely alone. 

We were soon back down in the hustle and bustle however and off to a posh hotel to use the pool. We needed a little luxury after that bus ride!

The following day at 7am we headed off on a camel safari deep into the Thar Desert. Unfortunately it rained when we started out which put our group of six in maybe not the best mood and not very chatty. The camel guys quickly made a make shift cover for us to sit under but no one really knew what we were then going to do all day and night. Luckily though after some lunch the sun came out with full force. 

It was beautiful, I love the desert so much. It was so great hanging out on the dunes, reading, watching the camels hang out and the cows, goats and dogs. My camel, Buddha, was awesome - he was HUGE!

We had dinner where we all made chapattis that we ate with dal and rice sitting under the stars. The camel guys sang to us, we danced, we rolled down the dunes in the pitch black, we played games (which included a lot of laughing at Lauren?) and generally laughed a lot. 

Sleeping outside is one of my favourite things ever so to be able to do it there was fantastic. The stars were bright and it didn't rain!! It reminded me a lot of being in Australia apart from when a cup of steaming chai was delivered to my bedside early in the morning. You absolutely can't beat waking up to a spectacular sunrise after spending the night in the fresh air of the desert.

The bus ride from Jaisalmer to Jodhpur was a day bus and was certainly interesting! It was NOT a tourist bus and we were the only white people on it - quite a curiosity to most who then piled on. It's amazing, people can fold and fit into the smallest of spaces! There were at least six people in a small overhead compartment similar to our first sleeper, then another few children too. It was hot and dusty but definitely an experience! 

We only freaked out once when we thought there was a road block that wasn't expected appeared however it turned out to be just a level crossing. The local people found our slight panic then relief quite amusing and had a good laugh. We spent most of the six hours being stared at but this is now pretty much par for the course. Especially my blonde hair. I'm guessing we're on a fair majority of Indian people's mantle pieces now as the English friends they once made (but really only actually had a photo with).

So then Jodhpur and WHAT a difference! The bus got in hours late so we were starving, tired and just wanted some relief from the bus. The hotel we booked turned out to be at the top of the highest hill with no rickshaw access. A few choice words were muttered and unfortunately the poor guy leading us there got a bit of a shouting at (I was tired and hungry - you know what lack of food does to me) Our room then turned out to be up yet another three flights of steep steps in what was pretty much a store cupboard. Seriously, it was like altitude training for Nepal! 

Luckily when we woke in the morning to a beautiful view of the majestic fort and gorgeous blue city all was forgiven. We wandered to the old fort which was absolutely amazing. It was huge and so imposing on the top of it's hill, you could just imagine approaching armies of old being fronted with that. The architecture of the palaces within was something else and the intricacies within each window panel, each balcony, each and every part we're astounding. The skill and time given to it is something you don't see in today's buildings. It truly was spectacular within the walls. Even the gardens were meticulous. 

It was a fun morning as there were a lot of Indian tourists to Jodhpur too from villages in the desert who all wanted their photos taken and wanted to take our pictures on their smartphones, we really are regular celebs here. It was hilarious. I couldn't understand a word that was said but there was again much gesturing and laughing!

We found our way to the old clock tower and warren of market stalls. It was more a local market but fantastic to look around and some real bargains to be had.

Jodhpur seems a more real place. People living and working and being. Its busy and bustling, smelly, dirty and noisy, the people are constantly in your face on foot or from a tuk tuk or on a motorcycle. It's hot. I bloody love it!!

After a pink gin which wasn't so pink on a rooftop overlooking the beautiful blue city watching kids fly kites and the sun set behind the fort we are off to Udaipur. Jodhpur I'll be back. The maze of the market is still calling, the camera shots are still waiting.

Posted by kbenfield 00:54 Archived in India Comments (0)

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