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Craig’s Travel Diary

Monday, 19 Mar 2007

Location: Darjeeling, India

MapGday all!

I spent my birthday in Varanasi last Sunday. This city is quite different from any other I've seen in India or anywhere else I probably will. Basically Varanasi is the holiest place within India and all is based around the 80 holy Ghats which tail off the sides of the river Ganges. Hindu's believe that the Ganges is the 'mother of all life' thus why itís so important. I started the day on a boat ride down the Ganges to watch the sunrise over the water which was pretty special. I have to say though this river makes Blackpool seaside look inviting. The water has several sewerage outlets which explains the 1.5 million faecal bacteria per 100ml and the reason why it is classed as stagnant. Ceremonies and worship take place at each ghat. At 2 of the Ghats cremations take place, we sailed past as one was taking place. The body is carried down by the family and placed between wood logs and the ceremony takes place at the side of the ghat and the ashes spread in the water. It is believed that being cremated here takes a Hindu straight to god without being reincarnated. Now you have an idea of the state of the water this reflects how crazy some Indian customs are, people wash here, brush their teeth here and even swim in this river. I have no idea how they survive but there body must take a hammering. Itís probably the only place in the world where you have a wedding, someone washing, someone taking a leak, people praying and cremations taking place all in 300 yards of a stretch of river - incredible to see though! Spent the rest of the day looking round some more Hindu temples but to be honest I've seen quite a few in the last few months so it didn't excite me too much.

On Monday I made my way to the far North East of India to a place called Darjeeling. Had a nightmare 24 hour journey there where the train was delayed, packed and I wasn't feeling the best but it was all worth because Darjeeling is a beautiful place. The people here are really nice and completely genuine which takes a bit of getting used to. I met a sound guy called Iain from near Cambridge on the train so I shared a room with him and we explored this British like town. Darjeeling is 2,100m above sea level so itís pretty cold but a highlight of the place is the trekking you can do from here. We decided to do a 3 day trek and set out on Thursday. The trek would take us to an altitude of 3,636m covering 48 kilometers. Day 1 started pretty tough with some steep climbs, when you reach cloud level and a cloud rolls in you can't see 10 foot in front of you and the temperature really drops. We made it to the first village where we stayed the night is a log house. We thought this was cold but it was nothing compared to the next day. We got up early doors to see the sunrise which was really special, as the sun breaks onto the opposite mountain range were we could see Indiaís highest peak and third highest in the world Kangchendzonga (pictures to follow will do this sight justice). The second day was the toughest, we had a 7km flat run followed by a 9km incline where the last 3km where almost vertical in parts. It also started snowing as we rose and became very very cold. At this height the altitude really takes it out of you and I found it harder to catch my breath and it felt like my heart was beating in my head. At this point I started to ask myself why I ever left the beaches of Goa! We finally made it to the top which was incredibly satisfying and got shown to our wind tunnel room where everything was frozen. That night is one I won't forget, huddled round a fire drinking rum and hot water eating yaks meat freezing my nuts off - it was minus 15 without the wind chill, thatís bloody cold!!! The next morning we where really lucky, the cloud had lifted and we had a clear view of the Himalayas including a first clear glimpse of Everest. Itís pretty amazing to look at the highest place on earth towering over 8,800 meters where many people have lost their lives trying to concur it. We set off early on our 16km decent down the mountain. The contrast between the snowy start and the dusty finish was stark and it was good to reach somewhere with a reasonable temperature.

Since then I have been planning my move out of India and into Nepal. I plan on making this trip tomorrow as long as the borders are open. Theyíve been on and off closed recently because of the Nepal elections coming up but I spoke to a fella from the British Embassy there and he said it should be fine so watch this space.

I've had an amazing time in India and seen and learnt so much and would highly recommend it to anyone thinking of traveling. I am happy to be moving on now though with the new challenges of rafting, canyoning and a 16 day trek around Annapurna to organise. Should have some more pics up soon of my final days in India. Hope your all ok back home!