Location: Varanasi, India
Well the second last in day in India has finally arrived, and thank all the gods in the hindu pantheon for that, because there is such a thing as having too much of a good thing. And let me tell you I have over-stuffed myself in the trough that is India. No I don't want a bloody rickshaw/marijauna/hash/souvenir, you can stick your shop up your arse, and it is none of your business where I am from, how much I earn, and who my god is, and for the love of god, it is rude to stare. Just take me to to the destination I asked for and try not to charge me 7 times the actual price, no I am pretty sure the hotel I want to stay at hasn't burn't down, and any body who has been to Mumbai recently will understand, no I don't want a massive multi coloured balloon.
Anyway this rant could continue in this fashion for several pages, so I will cut myself off here. Have finally completed a rough circumnavigation of the sub-continent and have arrived in Varanasi. I think the last entry I actualy bothered to write was in Goa, so lets go back in time (cue flash back music).
Went from Goa to the historic town of Humpi which contains the ruins of a hindu empires capital before the arrival of the mughals (muslims). Really interesting place, old ruined temples and houses everywhere set in an area of huge outcrops of granite. The site is quite spread out so we hired a bike for the day. Now, the history was cool, but let me tell you the people were a little bit strange. Hampi town itself, was like walking through the set of a zombie film, however I think a zombie would be a bit more animated than this lot. Also, for a town that exists soully for the tourist dollar, there was not one resturant in town that served decent food. Aparently salt is now a major part of curry. From Hampi we caught the overnight train to Bangalore, and then onto Mysore. We had grand plans of staying in town for at least couple of days as some freinds had said the place was really good; managed to stay for a grand total of about 16 hours. The town should be renamed Hasslesore as it is the greatest conglomeration of hustlers and dickheads this side of the black stump. We booked into a hotel, went into town and checked out the Maharaja's palace, and then got hassled by every second dude. Gave us the shits that badly that we jumped a bus to Cochin that night. Best move we have made in ages.
Arrived in the state of Kerala to the really laid back town of Cochin early the next day. Compared to Mysore, it was like a completely different world. The people were really cool, the town clean(ish) and modern, and most of the people left you alone. Didn't do much here, organised some flights and stuff, but that was about it. Apparently there was a fort to see but we really couldn't have been arsed. From Cochin we went Allepey, this town is a massive toliet, but it is the best place to rent a traditional houseboat to cruise the backwaters. This was a definate highlight, expensive by indian standards, but worth every cent. Basically, all you do is get on a house boat with all the mod cons, including driver and cook, and just chill out for 2 days cruising around the backwaters of southern india. The country side is gorgeous, palm trees everywhere interspersed with huge rice paddies, all bisected with criss crossing chanels. The colour green features quite heavily, and for once the water doesn't have dead dogs and a million tons of rubbish floating in it. Oh, before we went on the cruise we stayed at an awesome little place outside of Allepey, really good value, brand new bungellos and some of the best Keralan food we had curtesy of the owners wife.
From Allepey went clean across the country to Chennai on the tain then caught a bus to the old french town of Pondicherry. Very neat and tidy town where, I swear to god, the indian people have a french accent, all very surreal. Not a great deal to do though as you can't swim in the ocean as it is too rough (not that you would want to as I think the Indian word for toliet and ocean are the same thing. When you walk along the beach in Oz you have to avoid dog shit, in India you have to avoid the shit from about 37 different species, the most prevelent of which is human. It's like traversing a mine field). Where was I, oh yeah, Pondi was good just for eating (good french bagettes) and one of the only places in India where you can get real coffee.
From Pondicherry we went just up the road to Mamallapuram. The lonely planet said it was a back-packers paradise, little bit off there. The beach was disgusting with the obligatory shit and rubbish everywhere. I mean in a country of a billion people you would think you could find one or two to clean up the rubbish on the beaches. It's like driving a garbage truck onto Bondi and dumping 1000 tons of rubbish. I have to keep reminding myself that we are dealing with the laziest race of people on gods green earth. At any one time during a normal working day, there couldn't be anymore than about 5% of the population working, and then it is only the women and children. The spanish have there siesta in the afternoon, presumably to avoid the heat, the indians have a siesta for the entire day. Lazy, lazy bastards. Sorry, ranting again, summarising, filthy town and beach but some cool little temples so not too bad a place.
Mamallapuram back to Chennai for the day (long enough) then the overnight train to Bubaneswar. Now, this town wins the award for the shittiest capital city in India. This was compounded by the fact that it took 22 hours to get to the dump and then the only half decent accomadation available was about 2 million times the price it should have been. Anyway, we stayed one night, then got the bus to Puri on the coast. This town was actually pretty good but the beach had the most amount of shit on it yet. I swear to god, if I ever see another person shitting in public it will be too soon. We managed to stay at a hotel on the beach with beach veiws (makes it easy to watch the people take a dump) that actually charged a decent price for the room, so you can't complain. The only touristy thing to do was to go to the little town of Konark and check out a massive temple, well worth it.
So, from Puri we jumped another train to Varanasi. Have been here for 2 nights. This is one of the most holy cities for hindu's but again, it suffers the same fate as the rest of india. The place is really delapitated and there is rubbish everywhere. It's like dumping a million tons of shit on the Vatican and it's all because they're too lazy to organise a sanitation crew, it's just easier to throw the garbage on the ground and let the cattle, dogs, and pigs sort through it. Disgusting. There really isn't alot to do here, heaps of temple and stuff but they are closed to non hindu's. Went on a sunrise boat ride on the ganges this morning. Absolute highlight of the trip to see thousands of people coming down for their morning bath. The variation in colours and the light when the sun rose was amazing. When we asked the guy rowing the boat whether the water was clean or not he looked slightly offended and said the river was clean as you could get, then about 5 minutes later when I asked what the water was flowing from the town into the river, he said it was waste water, which I think roughly translates as sewage judging by the smell. So, needless to say I didn't partake in an early morning dip.
So that's about it, couldn't stand the thought of a 2 day bus ride to Kathmandu so we are flying to Nepal tomorrow. Have 3 weeks there and then it is back home. Looking forward to going to Nepal, but looking forward to coming home more.
Location: Mcleod Ganj, India
Currently in the little mountain village of Mcleod Ganj in the north of India (it is near the city of Amritsar if anyone wants to check on an atlas). The town is home to the Tibetan Government in exile including the Dalai Lama who unfortunately is not here at the moment even though I am sure he'd love to have a yarn with me. Nice place with a normal temperature (ie where people don't spontaneously burst into flames) set among some awesome sweeping mountains covered with pine trees. Well, I think we are surrounded by pine trees as it is always bloody cloudy or rainy here, so it is hard to tell. Beats the shit out of the humidity though.
Arrived here from Amritsar in the Punjab, the capital of the Sikh religion and home of the amazing golden temple. The city itself is about half an hour from the border with Pakistan. Went out to the border for a look as they have a crazy closing of the border ceremony at sunset everynight. The whole process involves the slaming of gates, some riducless frog marching and feet stamping by both the indian and pakistani border gaurds, along with the lowering of the flags. The whole process is watched by about 5000 indians (and some whities) seated in football stadium type seating adjacent to the border itself. Kind of had a festival type feel to it with the indian people letting out a fair bit of patriotic pride while sticking it inot the pakistani's. Quite a fun way to spend an afternoon.
Before Amritsar we were in Jodphur (home of the horse riding trousers). Nice place with a massive fort up on the hill behind the city. You get an audio guide in the ticket price with the narration done by some indian guy who probably should be doing shakespeare somewhere. Very theatrical, but good.
We were in Jaisalemier before that. This was the setting for one of the greastest cases of ameobic dysnentry ever inflicted upon an unsuspecting individual, namely me. The town is on the edge of the Thar desert and is the traditional jump off point for a camel trek out into the desert. So, we booked an overnight trek in relatively fine health, had one day on the camels in the desert and was struck down severely that night in the sand dunes with some kick arse food poisoning. Up all night crook, and then had to get the guide to take me to the nearest highway to hitch a ride back into town as another day on a camel was going to get messy. Longest camel ride of my life, frequent sick stops, and then the roughest bus ride back into town. Had to haul up in a hotel for the next 3 days chewing antibiotic tablets and immodium like they were pop corn. Hell of a way to lose weight I can tell you. Eventually got better though, getting sick is par for the course over here but it is bloody murphy's law that it had to happen out in the friggin desert. I have still got sand in unmentionable places.
Udaipur before Jaisalemier. Any James Bond fans will know this place as the indian city from Octopussy. Really cool joint set on a large lake with a palace hotel in the middle of it. Didn't do much there bar go to the Marharaja's palace as it pissed down rain for a good couple of days.
About up to date now. Heading back to Delhi tomorrow night then the overnight train to Mumbai (Bombay), then down to chill out in the hippy paradise of Goa.
Location: Pushkar, India
Hello all and sundry. Have finally embarked on the final leg of the odessy and have arrived in India. Holy shit, what a place. I have never seen so many people, beggers, cars, touts, tuk tuk's, rickshaws, cattle, monkeys, rubbish and shit gathered in one place. Eastern Africa seems like Europe compaired to this joint. It is filthy and noisy and at times highly frustrating but through all of that the country is completely and utterly amazing.
Arrived in delhi on a flight via Bahrain on a plane that was pretty well held together by sticky tape (did the old popes trick and kissed the tarmac when it landed, probably not the most hygenic idea in hindsight). Was mentally prepared for the the heat and humidity however the mental fortifications didn't really meet the sauna like reality. Hot and sweaty within about 2 minutes of walking out the airport door, not the optimal time to come but what can you do. Had 3 days in Delhi, slept pretty much all of the first, sight seeing the second. Saw the massive red fort, some mosque, india gate, and Hunamayans tomb. All quite impressive and collosal. The 3rd day was taken up by getting malaria medication (about a tenth of the UK price) and booking a train ticket to agra, which in itself is quite a convoluted process, god love indian beauracy.
From delhi to Agra on a train that back home you wouldn't put cattle on. I guess you can't complain when the ticket cost $2 for a three hour trip. Checked out another red fort (for some reason all the forts seem to be red), then on to the majestic taj mahal. Cost about $20 to get into the place, but worth every cent. It's kind of like the pyramids in that you have seen a million photo's of the place but to see it in person absolutely takes your breath away. Awesome. It's the same conundrum as Cairo and the pyramids as well when you see such a spectactular show of wealth and timeless durability surrounded by such squalor.
Anyway, from Agra to Jaipur, the pink city. Not really sure where the pink colour is supposed to come from as it seem to be varying shades of brown, mostly poo and car exhaust. Cool place where the streets are filled with the obligatory cars, cattle, bus, tuk tuk, and rickshaw, however there was a nice interspersal of camel drawn carts, elephants, and goats. Saw the current Maharaja's palace, the hawa mahal, and a really amzing 500 year old observatory. Oh, the following day we went to some forts overlooking the city. Just about forted out.
So we left Jaipur this morning and are currently in the holy town of Pushkar. Really cool chilled out place, bugger all motorised transport so it is really quiet, well quite by indian standards.
Oh, haven't been struck down with delhi belly yet (touch wood) however my guts feel like they are on a washing machines spin cycle. All part of the fun.
Also, the food is awesome but pretty spicy (had one curry that was that spicy they could have put it in a missile and vapourised pakistan).
Location: Krakow, Poland
Had about 10 days spare before heading to India, so instead of staying in London and getting royally buggered by our dismal exchange rate, I thought a sojourn to eastern Europe would be in order. More expressly, the lovely city of Krakow in Poland. The place is visually stunning with copious amounts of Hapsburg era buildings that really only remain in there current condition due to the Nazi's distinct lack of interest in the place during the second world war. The first day upon arrival was spent happily wandering around the city taking in the various churches and museums and the imposing Wawel Castle. One of the biggest tourist attractions in the area is the Auschwitz-Berkenhau concentration/death camps. I guess everyone has heard of them but for those who haven't, Auschwitz was more of a concentration camp and Berkenhau, which is about 4km's away, was the main death camp where something like 1.5 million people, mostly Jews, lost there lives to the insanity of Nazi Germany. Auschwitz itself has completely been renovated and essentially turned into a broad scale museum containing some excellent exhibitions on the macabre functions of the 2 camps. Subsequently, the place feels more like a museum rather than a place where an unfathomable amount of people ended there days. Berkenhau on the other hand is pretty much in the same conditions as its was left upon the retreat of the Germans from the area. Even though the gas chambers have been destroyed and many of the barricks that the prisoners where kept have disappeared, there is a distinct feeling of sorrow and death shrouding the place. It was truly overwhelming, giving a feeling that is hard to explain if you haven't been there.
There was a large contingent of Israeli police and army there on some sort of official tour. I sat beside the ruins of one of the gas chamber watching 2 guys in Israeli army uniforms walk past, clearly Jewish, and I thought 'I wonder what a Jewish person thinks of this whole place'. Within about 2 seconds of that thought one of the Israeli guys lets off this massive fart and for a second I thought how ironic it would be to be gassed with methane by a Jew whilst sitting next to one of the Nazi gas chambers. It kind of lifted the sombre mood for a little bit however that may have been due to my light headedness from the overwhelming stench.
The following day I had grand plans to go trekking up in the Tatras Mountains near the town of Zakopane. Unfortunately, the weathered turned bad and I didn't think sloshing around in the wet would have been much fun, so decided to go to Budapest in Hungary on the overnight train. Turned out to be a good decisions as the weather in the mountains was apparently horrendous, and Budapest turned out to be a great place to chill out for a couple of days. A lot like Prague except heaps more spread out. Cool art galleries and museums, excellent Architecture and an awesome night life. Unfortunately, the only people I could find to drink with where very loud Americans, but I guess its better than drinking alone (marginally). One of the Yanks was 7 feet tall though, which is cool as I have never had a beer with someone of that freakishness, he actually wasn't a bad guy.
Anyway, I am back in Krakow now, went an old salt mine today which was really cool. The place is on the UNESCO world heritage list as it is the oldest accessible mine in the world. Really cool. Flying back to London for a couple of days and then onto Delhi on Tuesday morning. Can't wait.