Friday, December 24, 2004

Merry Christmas!!

And a Happy New Year!

Wishing everybody all the best. Hope the snow's not TOO heavy :)

It ain't half hot over here, still never mind, eh?

Hope Santa brings you something good.

p.s. I just found out that it did actually snow, it was just a joke honest!!

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Murky Mumbai

I managed to get a ticket down to Mumbai from Ahemabad. I recently found it you can check availability online, so I looked up the train and the news was not good, no seats for the next week!

It seems to be that the website doesn't include the quota set aside for foreigners though, so I was able to get a ticket anyway.

It was my first sleeper train, and while I didn't get much sleep it wasn't too bad a journey, however I did arrive at Mumbai feeling knackered and not in the mood for another big, noisy city. I think I slept most of the first day in Mumbai as I was feeling lethargic.

I felt better the next day and set off early to the train station to get a ticket to Goa.
The main backpacker area (i.e. where the cheaper hotels are) is called Colaba, it's actually a lot quiter than I expected in that area. I thought it would be like Pahar Ganj in Delhi, all hectic and full of touts, but not too bad, or maybe I'm getting used to waving away the touts.
After about an hour of wandering about I finally found the Victoria Terminus (VT) train station built by the British and now renamed CST. Very grand and ornate for a train station. Still when I got there I realised that I had forgotten my passport and so jumped in a taxi to the hotel and back. I then joined a queue of only about 6 people, but everybody seemed to behaving problems and taking 10 minutes each. I though I was going to have problems with the trains to Goa being fully booked up, but when I finally got to the front of the queue I got the train ticket in 2 minutes. Don't know why everybody else was taking so long.

I had decided just to head off that night down to Goa, so I only had the day to look about Mumbai. However despiting setting off at 08:00 it was lunchtime by the time I got my ticket. I decided to head across to Elephanta Island departing close to India Gate which took longer than expected to trundle through the murky Mumbai waters and so the afternoon was also gone.
Elephanta Island have rock cut caves which the scientists and historians don't seem to know to much about. I had a quick look about this strange place. It is mostly hindu gods that are carved, so if you can't tell your Krishna from your Shiva its all a bit of a mystery.
It has pillared halls and decorative animals.
Back at the bay, people lurked silhouetted in the muddy harbour.

My train for Goa set off at 23.00 and the 2nd class looks absolutely mobbed, not where I fancy being for an eleven hour train journey. You get guys approaching you asking to check your ticket. I was having none of that! They'd whip your ticket off you in a flash I reckon, not sure what good it would do them though. When the ticket man arrived he has a list of names to check the seats against.

I was in the upper berth this time, a bit less space than before, but at least there are straps at the side of the bed, to stop your tumbling out.

Finally I arrived in Goa, where I shared a taxi to Panaji. I stayed there a night, and then headed down to Anjuna beach where I am just now. I stayed for one night in the first guesthouse I found and then had a look about. I moved the next morning to a nice guesthouse on the beach. I think I'll be staying here for Christmas and New Year. I think it will be nice to be in one place for a while and not have to pack your bags and arrange tickets every few days, so I'm looking forward to it.

I'm off go-karting this afternoon, there is about six of us, so we should have a good race.

Monday, December 06, 2004


I arrived at Ahemabad after another long bus journey from Udaipur.

I was close to getting scammed again, but just escaped it!

I got a taxi to the travel agents from where the bus left. The bus was an express bus (5 hours) leaving at 08:00 as my ticket said.
I showed my ticket to a guy from the travel agency who said to wait here for the bus. In India different travel agents sell bus tickets for the company who actually runs the bus, all kinda confusing and with little comeback if something goes wrong.

There was a bus already there going to Ahemabad waiting there but when I asked about it I was told that was the deluxe bus and cost 300rps, my ticket was 180rps. I could pay the difference if I was in a hurry, otherwise the bus would be here at 08:30, even though my ticket said 08:00.
Just as the bus was about to leave, and the travel agent was indoors I showed my ticket to the guy at the bus waiting, where I promptly got onboard.

I get the feeling that if the travel agent had seen me he would of shouted (in Hindi) to not let me on without paying more money! And as everybody seems to get a cut of the comission it would of been in his favour to make me pay. Or maybe I'm just getting paranoid!!

Still I was happy to get onboard the express bus, as I had seen other agency sell tickets for the 08:30 bus, which took another hour or so.

So when I arrived at Ahemabad as the bus guy had thrown my luggage in the hold I didn't have a chance to find a hotel from my guide book.
So I ended up standing in the bus station reading my guide book, with four or five taxi drivers surrounding me watching intently and sometime throwing in suggestions for their hotels.
Anyway once I had selected my hotel, one driver seemed to be chosen based on my hotel choice. So he took me to the hotel for a reasonable 20rps and I don't even think he got comission as my hotel was the stated price. I was very suprised! However the hotel was a bit of a dump and I resolved to look for a better place tomorrow.

I went to the train station to try and reserve a ticket but the office had closed at 14:00, as it was Sunday, and it was now nearer three. When I say it was closed, it was closed in a way that only an Indian office could be closed. There was one member of staff remonstrating with everybody that came in that the office was closed! Still I managed to get a reservation form from him. For some reason forms can only be got from behind a counter. Usually at the train station you see people shoving their way to the front to get a form from staff whilst they are dealing with another customer. Sometimes you think they are making things awkward just for the sheer hell of it! Being all very British and unaccostommed to jumping to the front of the queue and shouting at the staff for a form, whilst they are dealing with someone else, it takes me ages just to get a reservation form. You need to sharpen your elbows if you want to get ahead in India!

As trains must be reserved at least 24 hours in advance, and my train was leaving at 22:00 then on the Sunday I couldn't get a train till the Tuesday night. This led me to think about the hotel situation, if I could find a hotel with 24 hour check out then I may as well go to a better hotel tonight, instead of tommorow. So I checked into a new hotel at 21.00 on Sunday where I should be able to stay until 21.00 on Tuesday and catch my train. It's still just two nights with the advatange that I have a room up until my train. Well I think thats how it should work out!

I went for to a fancy restaurant last night called Agashiye at the House of MG (

It was more posh than I expected! There was a set price of 300 rps for the menu (100 rps more than my guide book said, still keeps out the riffraff!!) which changes every day.

I was led to the rooftop where the starter was served. I don't know what half the food was though! After the started I moved through to the main outside dining area, which had mosiaced tiled seats which reminded me of ones I seen in Parc Gaudi. There I was and waiters covered the table in food! I couldn't believe how much there was. I had a main plate with 2 bowls of soup, a veg dish and some potatoes and peas. There was also curd, poppadoms, parantha and another form of bread. Also a bowl of herbs and spices to add, a large bowl of something that looked like turnip, a small bowl of fancy decorated food and a coconut drink. I think I'm forgetting another couple of dishes.
When I finshed anything a waiter immediately appeared offering to top it up! And then can another waiter with a giant bowl of rice turned up, ugh too much. Although still a small room for some ice-cream with came with about 8 bowls of decorations like nuts, raisins, etc.

I finally waddled back to my hotel and flopped on my bed. Definitely the fanciest meal I've had in India!

Saturday, December 04, 2004

Udaipur Mark 2

The French toast was proper French toast mmmmm.
Now that the suspense is out the way I'll tell you why I've got a blister on my finger.
I was walking past a shop looking at the instruments and I saw that they do lessons, so I decided to take a quick sitar lesson, although things in India never seem to quite that straightforward...

The shop I was looking at was shut at the time, when a young man saw me looking at the signs for lessons and led me off to his "brothers" shop. I arranged at this shop to come back in 30 minutes. The young guy, Krishna, suggested we go for a quick tea. I mentioned that I wanted to post a letter so we went for tea and then try to find the postoffice. After whizzing through the streets on the back of his new motorbike, I got to the postoffice. The man said that I couldn't post the CD, as it would get smashed under the stamp to be put on the envelope, even though the CD is in a plastic case. Maybe one day I'll be able to post the CD home. I'll need to get more cardboard and box it up first.

Anyway, as we were quite far from the music shop he suggested we go to the other branch. (It all seems so obvious now in hindsight) So I ended up taking a lesson at a different shop.Later I got a tour round some of Udaipur on the back of Krishna's bike. He wanted 200rps for fuel, I didn't mind paying him for his time as the bike ride was fun, but he insisted it was just to cover his fuel costs, yeah right.

The sitar lessons was good no that I could play anything, but it was interesting to give it a go. I at least learned how to sit with the instrument properly. The hardest bit was that for are supposedly to look only at the back of the neck for the fretting and not peek over the neck to see where your fingers are. Also on your right hand you wear something akin to a paper clip for plucking, it also cuts off your circulation though.

I later walked past the orignal shop and they guy was asking why I didn't turn up, so I explained how I got taken to his other branch but ofcourse he didn't have another branch.
I later bumped into Krishan again, he was wearing red jeans and a blue jumper so easy to spot. I dragged him back to explain to the orignal shopkeeper about what had happened. It turned out he was cousins with the orignal shopkeeper. Well that's what their story was, I'm none the wiser. Still at least I got my sitar lesson in the end.

I also visited another fancy temple and saw the famous lake palace hotel although the lake unfortunately was a bit dried up. Next went to a museum which had grand stained glass windows for the maharaja. At night you could see a distant castle on a hill illuminated but it kinda looked like it was just floating in the night sky.

The next day I decided to visit Shilpgram an arts & crafts village. There was musicians singing and playing.
Also some female musicians swung bells round their arms rythmically clanging all whilst balancing pots on their heads! One man was painting an elephant on the side of his shop. Whilst back at the entrance a large group had begun to perform with lots of dancing and noise.

And in case your wondering where all these places are here's a map.

The purs

Jodhpur was orginally home to the Brahmins who liked to paint their homes blue, this is still very much in effect and provides a mesmerising view at sunset. Also it looks spectacular when illuminated at night.
I thought I would attempt to shake off the tuktuk driver as they take commision from your hotel and therefore the price is increased. I asked to get dropped off at the clock tower but he took me to a hotel anyway! Still the hotel didn't look too good, so I left to find one on my own, much to the drivers bemusment.
I had spotted a sign shortly earlier for a hotel I had heard of in my guide book, so I followed the signs but they were full. Luckily there was plenty of other hotels in the vicinty. As I was wondering about with my backpack another tout soon latched onto me. This hotel was a building site, so I just walked back out. It might actually of been okay past the hall, but I managed to shake off another tout!
I then found a place to stay, the Sunrise Hotel. I opted for a room with a balcony (not much view though!) which was a mistake as I paid more for a noiser room, still live and learn, eh?
Besides being a blue city the other thing which immediately stands out is Meherangarh, a huge impenetrable fort rising above the city. Just one look at it and it is no suprise that it has never been captured. Besides having great views back over the city, there was also an interesting musuem with an audio guide telling the history. The musem contained some large fancy chairs for carrying the important people, as well as various other artifacts such as swords and weird statues. In another room the emperor's ceiling was decorated with disco balls. Outside the fort has detailed marble lattice screens and inside stained glass windows. From the top of the fort you can get a good view over the surrounding landscape. Also on the roof, wheeled cannons dominated the surface. When I was there a part of the fort was being used for shooting a Bollywood film. It seemed to have hundreds of people behind the scenes all milling about. Then all the tourists were taking pictures of the actors and actresses dressed up in period costumes, annoying the film people. Although it did lend a medeival feel to the occasion. And here is a photo of a wall.
Just about every hotel claimed to have the highest rooftop restaurant in Jodhpur. I think I went to the highest one, where I had a strange chow mein. If Heinz made chow mein this is what it would of tasted like. It seemed like chopped up sphagetti in tomato sauce rather than noodles were used.
I was planning to take a train down the line to Mount Abu, but after getting confused at the train station a change of plan.It seemed that the only train would arrive at some unearthly hour, besides the weekly train, all the way to Bangalore, which left yesterday.
So with that in mind, I decided to head to Udaipur, which meant another six hour bus journey, hurrah!
Udaipur has a famous lake palace (suites only $900/night), unfortunately a drought means the lake is pretty much dried up.
Strangely, a lot of the hotels have nightly screening of Octopussy, which was partly shot in Udaipur!
You can tell when your in a more touristy spot, as most menus have continental food, pizza & burgers, and shops selling english books. Looks like a good place to swaps some books, they get heavier carrying them around after being read.
French toast is on the menu here, but will it be sweet American French toast (yes such a thing exists) or proper French toast (not as eaten by the French, though)?
And on that cliffhanger, I'll end!

Camels and Cuisine

Onwards to Bikaner. I arrived late at night by train. The train was strangly empty in my posh "chair class". There was about sixty seats between four people. This class is air conditioned. i.e there are lots of big fans on the ceiling making the carriage cold. I was assigned a seat almost directly below a fan, but moved back a bit. Just before the train left I spotted a book seller, so I grabbed The Brethren by John Grisham. The choice was pretty much between Grisham or Clancy!Still it made the journey go quicker.
I was reading through my Lonely Planet trying to decide where to stay and thinking the train should of arrived by now when a man ushered me off. Because of the lights inside, tinted windows and darkness outside I didn't realise I had arrived. Also I was looking out the wrong side of the train!
As I exited the train station, the usual descdending of touts began, as the autorickshaws drivers get commision from the hotels, they are keen for your business. The first guy had a card from a hotel I had read about and so I was whisked off. I even managed to bargain down the room from five hundred to four hundred. Not bad when I just wanted to sleep. (I was later to learn of people staying for three fifty, so I've still to improve!)
The next day, I just had a lazy day and wandered around town and then ate in the hotel restaurant. I came across a disgusting pond which you could hardly see the water fir the plastic bags, the smell was horrible, it was stinking of sulphur.
The hotel has a good resturant, so I've tried a few bits and bobs.Aloo matter seems to be pea curry as far as I can work out.Missi roti seems to be like a flat dry bread. I thought is would be a dough ball like in my guide book, but I don't know what the missi bit means and roti is just bread. (Turns out I had roti mixed up with bati)
Also I had stuffed paratha, which I'd had before at a roadside place. Not quite as nice here, or perhaps I wasn't as hungry!Finally I had potato raita which is like yoghurt, good with pulou (flavoured rice), but not much use on its own. Its a bit like just the sauce from a meal.As you can see I'm slowly learning a bit more about the cuisine. Still haven't found where I can get a beefburger though :)
I was chatting with a couple of English guys (Richard and Mike) who are travelling through India, one has motorbiked from England and he's the sensible one!The other just jumped on the back of his bike!
Like a lot of people they are heading down to Goa from Christmas, definitely seems to be THE place to be at Chrimbo, so I think I'll head down that way myself. Another possible option is Diu (another former Portugese colony) but it is in a bit of a dead end.

Anyway, I'm just back from the desert!
I spent three days doing a desert safari on a camel. It was good fun, but probably a one off, as being bounced up and down on a camel is pretty painful, especially on day three.
I had looked up a safari agent and found the shop which was a good walk out of town, but when I told him, what hotel I was staying at he was relucant to do a safari. It seems to be the way of things in India. So I had to go through the hotel (although I suppose I could of change accomodation)
Still day one, we headed off early and got a jeep into a village on the edge of the desert. On the way we stopped at the Karni Mata temple, otherwise known as the Rat Temple!
As it is a religous temple, its off with the shoes and in with the rats. There is acutally not too many running about, although in the corner there is plenty of them hiding under a piece of wood. Also in another corner is a small bowl of milk where there are having a quick drink. So I joined them for a photo. Its good luck to spot a rare white rat, but alas not my day.Although I did nearly stand on one, but luckily for both of us, it escaped my crushing foot just in time.
Outside the temple there was statues of Maharaja, but as you can see I was still keeping an eye on the rats.

So back to the safari, we pulled up and there are two camels tethered to the trees,
For the first two days I had an English speaking guide, Wasim (perhaps more of an interpreter!) and two camelmen who's names I had difficulty getting my tongue round.
The senior camelman was wearing earings that would put the Beckhams to shame. Seems to be the style in Rajastan and particularly Bikaner. The muslim guide told me it was a Hindu thing.
After a bit of hanging about while the camels snacked, it was up onto the camel. The camelman made some tut tut noises at the camels and it jerkily dropped to its knees. I then jumped aboard by throwing one leg over the side and then hoisting myself level. Then I had to hold tight on the harness and the camelman tut tutted at the camel and it rose in two stage, back legs where you are leaning forward about forty five degrees and then back legs when its fully upright.
My first though was it's a long way down! Then it started moving and my next though was arrgh! It certainly takes a bit of getting used to but after a while you learn to relax which seems to help a great deal. So off into the sandy desert
Once you relax you can get into the swing of things. After a whle though I was quite happy to jump in the cart being pulled by the other camel.
By the end of the first day I was happy enough that I didn't have to cling on with white knuckles. I even managed a drink of water aboard a moving camel!
The first night we stopped at a dune and some tarpaulin was thrown over the cart for a makeshift tent. The night was a bit foggy but with a near full moon.
The desert wasn't quite like the pictures you see of the sahara with nothing but dunes, I had been warned not to expect this.They land was perhaps more like arid scrub with bushes dotted about and much of the land, although looking like sand, had been ploughed. At first I though my camel was hungry as he kepy veering off to nearby branches only to be pulled back in line.
Later on I found out that he was tring to lose files that gather around their face (must be very irrating)When we stopped for a break and the harnesses were freed, the first thing the camels would do is roll around like crazy in the sand to rid themselves off the flies, effectively washing themselves in the sand. Then they looked very contented (or dead)! As the sun began to set, the cook made dinner, and quiet fell throughout the camp.
Next day the camels rose somewhat reluctantly.

The camels would drink from a trough, where I half expected to see a slowly appearing figure approach and shoot the camelman from afar ("He drank from my well!"). We stopped at a concrete building for some lunch and some shade. After lunch we chose a path through the desert.
I had 24 bottles of mineral water for three days. I probably drank about 10 over three days, so no worries there. The second night we stopped and as arranged the guide left (I could of paid extra for another day, but I was nice and quiet without him)That night it was clear and I fell asleep under thousands of twinkling stars, simple yet memorable.
Next morning it was back on the camel for the twenty five km back to the village, however I was feeling somewhat tender so I spent most of the day lounging in the cart as a camel towed it across the sands, which was strangely relaxing just watching the world pass by. Still I was glad to be back on firm earth, and thankful that I hadn't done anymore days. (Some people do a fifeteen day safari to Jaisalmer) Three days in the desert was enough for me, I've even got souvieneers, three spider bites.

Friday, November 26, 2004

Jumping Jaipur

The next day I visited Fatehpur Sikri(1,2,3,3,4,5,6,7,8)

. A city built by Akbar, with just one problem, it had no water. It was deserted just 20 years after it was built, except for the canaries!

The ghost city contains three temples, one for each of his three wives. One mulsim, one christian, one hindu like his respective wives.

Then you enter a marketplace, with a huge main gate through which you got a good view overlooking Agra.

At the grand entrance to the mosque far above the heads of the people there lies four huge beehives, I was just glad they didn't get angry. At least the squirrels were placid.

Onto Rajastan next and I briefly stopped of at Bharatpur which is home to Keoladeo Ghana National Park. This has become a bird sanctuary after water was diverted into by a maharaja, at the time to stop water shortages.

Only rickshaws are allowed in, so I jumped into the back of one and we, were off. The driver was also a guide, and stopped at places where he knew the birds were likely to be. He showed me a hollowed out tree where an owl lay sleeping and also a bird sleeping in the undergrowth. I was only metres away from the sleeping bird before I made out the shape. It looked like a branch or a twig, but I then made out the shape of the bird.

I also saw some antelopes(1,2),
deer and a whole host of birds(1,2,3,4,5,6)
including a huge eagle gliding across above the water and lots of butterflies.

The land there looked like the African savannah with the antelopes on it. Also there was some nice islands with tropical vegetation and storks in the reeds. A good place to visit but I had only 1 1/2 hours there before back in the car and off to Jaipur passing an ancient ruined fort.

Jaipur, a bustling old city originally fortified but has expanded beyonds it walls rapidly. I stayed in a hotel with a moonlit rooftop.

Japiur is famous for it's gems and it's gem scams!

Also I noticed a high number of pigs running about the roadside. In addition to the usual dogs, cows and goats!
Just to complete the animals the hotel had a cat. I think I heard it annoy the dogs. There were in fine singing mood at five in the morning.
As it was Sunday the driver (Sanjay) suggested I share a drink with him and his pal. So between the three of us, we drank a small bottle of rum. Seems to be the tipple of choice. (Not as nice as Morgans though!)

The next day I had a tour of the Amber palace. And the best bit by far was the ride upto the fort.

I stepped carefully from the platform onto the chair, beneath which lay a large, grey elephant!

The decorated elephant then proceeded to amble up to the fort under the direction of the driver, who seemed to use his feet to tickle its ears! (Except for one elephant that was being naughty, he got a whack on his cushioned head with a metal stick for his troubles). On the ride up you get a good view back down into the garden island.

The actual fort itself was atmospheric, especially as I manage to shake off the crowds and explore some of the rooms myself. The rooms are bare now, but some have just the faintest light streaming through the windows, others are boarded up and some just full of junk.
As I explored further, it got darker, I came across a room that was pitch black and couldn't see a thing. At that point I decided to escape this maze and turn back and head back up to the light.
Overlooking from the balcony I could see a lot of guys in pink headscarfs milling around the courtyard.
Inside there were decorative gardens , intricately detailed decorations, shiny ceilings and stained glass windows. Also a wall above which the birds were flying, taking in the extensive views down into town.

I had a look at the fort above the Amber Palace which contained a giant cannon, the reputation was enough to secure that the fort was never conqeured as the cannon was never fired in anger. It was now home to black faced monkeys with curly tails. They would leap from the trees onto the walls

As I hadn't really planned out what I was doing I let Sanjay show me around town and briefly saw a lake palace owned by a mahraja. There is a famous one in Uidapur but I wouldn't mind owning this one either. Sanjay is going back to Delhi, so I'm back on the trains and buses again. It was good to have a driver for a short while, but hopefully it won't be quite so busy in the rest of the places so I can move around freely.

I also one to the cenotaph, situated next to a steep hill, which had many intricate marble carvings.
Later at the hotel somebody remarked that India is all "temples and graves"! Not too far off the mark though. There is a huge amount of forts, palaces, temples, mosques, mauseleums everywhere you turn.

The next day I went to for a ride to an old astronomical observatory. This park was full of large moondials, well astronomical instruments. For measuring the sun, planets and stars. Such as a spherical sundial
You could also climb up the instruments via the stairs.
Or just stare into the sun.

Still I hope to go to a very interesting temple tomorrow!

Agra Agra doo doo doo

On the way to Agra I stopped off at Mathura, birthplace of Krishna.

As I exited the car, I was quickly pounced upon from a guide. (When you've got your own driver everybody wants to be your friend!)

The guide showed me around and gave me a confusing history lessons about the Gods.

Mathura has a Hindu temple right next to a Muslim mosque. Around there are armed policemen and metal detectors. I had a look about and just when I was thinking how much a white guy stands out my guide drapes a garland of marigolds around my neck. Cheers!

As I left, I gave the flowers to a nearby cow, so I should be full of good karma now.

Next stop was to be the hotel, and then Taj Mahal. As we drove along the driver picked up somebody and said he will be my guide for the Taj Mahal, hmm okay.

Actually the guide for the Taj Mahal was excellent!

There was a queue to get in and he led me through to another counter and we got in straight away. At first you can only see the minarets as you are led into a courtyard with large walls and not until you pass through the gate do you get the first full view of the Taj Mahal.

It really is a spectactular building (1,2,3,4,5,6,7. 20,000 people worked over 22 years to produce it, so you would expect it to be something special.
What you don't see in these famous pictures is that it is perfectly symmetrical building and is flanked by two mosques. (One is purely for symmetery and cannot be used as a mosque as it's facong the wrong direction)

While the years have taken some toll on the Taj Mahal in general it is in excellent condition. Mostly this is due to the way in which it was built. The marble has been carved away and inset stones are used as opposed to painting, as well as more traditional carvings. Scripts from the Quran adorened the outside carved in black onyx. Also four large minarets are positioned at each corner carefully tilted outwards by only a degree, believed to be so that in case of an earthquake the minarets would fall outwards and not onto the Taj itself. Of course the gardens around are also carefully manicured and filled with reflecting water ponds.

The guide managed to skip past another huge queues to go inside the darkened mausoleum where intricate flower patterns are displayed. I later saw how they were created in a shop. The marble is stained with henna and the individual pieces are each shaped using a grinding wheel. The grinding wheel is operated by pushing a rod back and forward while the other hand holes the piece of stone against the wheel. Some of these designs are tiny with individual pieces just millimetres across and all down with different stones with diffent hardness and of course colours.

The piece is then traced onto the marble and the outline shows in the henna, then the marble is scrapped away to fit in the stone. Finally the marble is clean to remove the henna.
Some of the designs have over fifty separate pieces to assemble and at the end, one small colourful flower.

Easy to see why it took so many people so many years!

I finally left once the sun had set on the Taj Mahal.

Escape from Delhi!

As I was walking around Delhi, as usual you are approached by somebody hoping to get some business. This time a guy said I could get a free map from the official tourist people and so I did. Later on I passed the same travel agents so I decided to arrange my onwards travel. I asked if I could get a train ticket to Agra but the trains were all full. So, I ended up with a bus ticket instead, which would stop outside my hotel. In retrospect this seemed a bit strange as my hotel was packed into a maze of alleyways not ideal bus driving conditions, but hey this is India where their driving is crazy anyway another bus stuck up an alleyway wouldnt make any difference.
Six O'Clock alarm call, and I'm ready and packed and double-checking I haven't forgotten anything (once the bag is packed the paranoia about forgetting something creeps up).
Standing outside the hotel at 6.30 in the morning first light waiting for the bus, still standing there 30 mins later...

I phoned the travel agency company but no replied. The guy running the phone business, said I should go over there immediately. So I go to get a taxi and quickly run past a procession of people celebrating something as they are all blocking the road and no taxis can get past. I manage to finally get in front of them and see a taxi coming towards me, and so jump in and spin off to the travel agents.

After a while the taxi driver finds the shop in the vast Conaught Circle, with the help of just a few passerbys.

Off course when I got there about 7.30 it was still shut.
Also waiting were a couple of other guys who were here to collect money from the agents.

I talked to them and they said they were from the official goverment tourism people. They phoned the agents and found out that they wouldn't open for another 45 minutes. So I go back and have a look at one of their offices and they tell me that the agent didn't have train bookings rights and so could only book buses.
They then showed me how they could electronically reserve trains and showed the trains for Agra which were all jam packed for the next 5 days. The have a waiting list in case anybody cancells the ticket, for tomorrow the wait list stood at 108.
Delhi-Agra-Jaipur is known as the Golden Triangle probably due to the amount of gold fleeced from tourists!
So after having a look at the options, I decided to splurge and get me a driver. This enable me to go to Agra today as was initialled plan, once my credit card was zapped I was whisked into a waiting car quicker than you can say "Taj Mahal, Jeeves!"

And so I finally escaped Delhi.

Friday, November 19, 2004

Wandering in Delhi

I've taken a bus sight seeing trip around Delhi, but as the traffic is jammed pack I saw more of the inside of the bus than Delhi itself. Still it was a useful whirlwind tour around some of the popular sights.
First stop was the Birla temple a Hindu place of worship. As the majority of the tourists on the bus were Hindu they was a lot of praying go on when I visited. I just try and keep out of the way but you can see in people faces wondering why I was there!

On route we stopped at the Parliament buildings all though you are not allowed too close for security measures. Next was India Gate as large arc with long straight pedestrainised roads passing through it and surrounded by large green parks. Soldiers were present here and it looked like there we might be in time for a parade, but it seemed they were just practising. The sergeant was running around adjusting people hands and feet to the correct alignment.

Next stop was Qutb Minar, a 70m tower built in the 13th century. According to some guide that latched himself on to me, the tower was used as a giant sundial. Also present in the site was a mysterious 7m iron pillar, made from extremely pure iron which should not of been possible at the time of inception over 1600 years ago.
Also there were many carved pillars of which no two are the same, each with intricate details.

We stopped off at a Indira Gandhi house which is now transformed into a museum. Outside a comerative plane of glass marks the spot where she was assinated. This was all lapped up by the Indian tourists as her family seemed to have entered into the Indian psyche. In the paper today was a tribute on the anniversary of her death.

Next a monument at Rajghat to another Indian icon, Mahatma Gandhi, where an eternal flame burns. His legacy still lives on even though he was murdered back in 1948.

Finally we circled past the Red Fort, again security was priority and no parking was allowed. Although by this time it was dark however the fort was at least illuminated. Soon I was dropped off and making my way back to the hotel, glad to be of the bus and stretch my legs. It's always a lot hard to find your way after dark as familar land marks can be easily missed, however I made it back without getting lost once, a new record!

I have somehow contrived to catch a cold in this 30C+ weather. As such I couldn't really be bothered doing much the next few days. I popped into the Museum of Modern Art which wasn't quite what I was expecting. The curators have a different idea of "modern" from the British museums. There was 18th century drawings and a lot of paintings from unknown artists. Still there was some more modern paintings which weren't bad, as well as the usual dross of a few strokes of a brush declared as a painting.

Today I went for a fancy lunch to a restaurant called Parikrama for a bit of Chicken Tikka Masala. The restaurant sits 24 floors above Delhi and rotates to give you good views. However as is usually the case in Delhi it is shrouded in haze, probably from the exhaust fumes of all these auto-rickshaws.

Yesterday I went to a cafe and peered down into the Main Bazaar. Complete with cat on a hot tin roof and ramshackle housing.
Down at street level things are just as chaotic, especially the wiring!
I got this map of Delhi and realised it was no wonder I was always getting lost.

Tommorow I leave for Agra, famous for the Taj Mahal and persistent touts!

Just a final word about the unashamed dual pricing system in operation in India, the Qutb Minar cost 5rps for Indians, 250rps for Johnny Foreigners. Similarly, the Taj Mahal is 20rps vs 750rps. I'll need to get a better tan and brush up on my Hindi!

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Diwali and stuff

Diwali was celebrate on the 12th in McLeod Ganj. Diwali seems to bascially involve lots of gunpowder.
For a week or so beforehand there had been the occaisonal firecracker, but on the day the intensity increased.
As night fell sporadic machine-gun burst of crackers went off and then bulding up to a crescendo and thousands of bangers go off almagamating into a loud rumble of noise! They say they celebrate it in Delhi with more gusto. The next day I noticed in the papers 60 people were admitted to hospital with burns. A spokesman commented that as it wasn't just children that were injured then it must be substandard explosives. Didn't seem to suprising to have injuries as I witnessed fireworks going up into the sky and then red-hot stubs falling back to earth and bouncing, in a display of sparks, onto a tin roof.

I then had the dubious pleasure of sitting on a bumpy bus for eight hours as I trundled down to Chandigarh. I arrived just as it was getting dark after setting off from the hotel at 9.30.

Chandigarh is a purpose built city for the adminstration of Punjab and so is only 50 years old, but it still looks like it falling apart. As opposed to probably any other Indian city it is built on a grid system and divided into sectors which should make it easy to find you way about. However I still got lost and so did the drivers.
The next day I visited Ned Chand's Rock Garden!
Wall made from plug points
Strange pot thingys!
Whirly organic tree sculptures
Pebbled ceiling
Rocky walls
More weirdness
Open area
Some steps
Close up
Decorative pebble design
Rock army!
They are looking at YOU
Another army
Friendly rock person
Motley assortment
Cup of tea?
Yet more rock people
Regimented army hold sway over tourists
Yep, they are all different
Also some rock camels
Rock armies come in different colours
Note the wire jacket
Doesn't look very comfy
Wire feet
A lot of wire
The new area of the garden
What bits are real?
Large stepped area
With a woman sweeping

This bizarre place featured a weird cast of people and animal statues sculpted from junk. The walls are covered in broken plug sockets and the like to form a mosaic. Truly a unique place. Ned has been working secretly on the site for decades. When first discovered it was threaten to be bulldozered but got a reprieve and now even enjoys funding for bringing in the tourists.

I also popped into the rose garden which is reputedly the biggest in Asia with over 1500 different types of flowers. However for the horticulturally-challenged it may just look like a big park.

Next stop after a 4 hour train ride is back to Delhi. I've got a city tour organised for tomorrow and when I went to a tourist information centre they told me I'd been ripped off, so no change there!

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Momos for lunch!

I've arrived in McLeod Ganj just slighlty bruised after the bus journey.
McLeod Ganj is a stange mixture of Tibetan, Western and Indian infulences. As the headquarters of the Dali Lama there is monks walking about the streets in the robes all the time. (as well as the cows, and occasional monkey!)
Monks and monkeys
Just the monkeys
Lazy streetside cows
Tibetan flags adorning a building
Sneaky cow attacks toursits photographing monkeys!
Erm.. a cow
Monkey eating

Perched above Dharmasala only proper taxis and motorbikes can get up the hills so no noisy autorickshaws in the streets here.
Views down from McLeod Ganj
Dogs take a nap
Still napping
Menancing looking monkey with kid
View back to McLeod Ganj from a walk
Hazy close-up
Goat herding
Goats everywhere!
Monkey and mini-monkey
Pensive monkey ponders future of monkeykind

There is a lot of courses about meditation and yoga here, however I opted for a quick class in dumpling making (cue dumpling jokes)! The Tibetan dumpling is known as a momo. I spent a few hours with a chef and the one other attendee, Canadian mountain biker Steve, learning how to make momos. They come in a variety of folded shapes and filling, such as cheese & spinach or even chocolate. You are supposed to fold the dough in a certain way and it looks good when the chef, Sangye, done it but mine were a bit of a mess!

Still at least they tasted okay and Sangye also cooked up a deep fried egg roll which despite the sound was quite tasty!

I've also went to the unprouncable Tsuglagkhang complex where the Dali Lama resides, unfortuantely he was out for lunch!
At least the monks were there flamyboyantly arguing with each other about Buddhism.
More arguing
And more monks in the complex

There was an excellent museum there about the Tibetan struggle to maintain their culture and identity under the threat of the Chinese. It featured stories about people escaping across the Himalayas from Tibet to here. There is quite a few beggars with severe disabilites and amputees which may be from frostbite.

Today I was awoken by an earthquake, overall I prefer alarm clocks. It was probably fairly minor but certaintly a suprise!

Close to the hotel there was a stupa which I took a walk down to.
Lots of stairs
Tibetan stupa

Monday, November 08, 2004

Up in the hills with the monkeys!

Greetings from Dalhousie!

I'm 2000m above sea level (Ben Nevis is 1334m) admitedely I got the bus rather than clamber up here.
The bus ride was erm.. interesting. At first I though the bus was going to go up, up, up. But it was more like up, left, up, right, down, up!

I saw my first fleeting glimpse of a monkey from the bus! Later on walking down the path a one-armed monkey jumped out in front of me, stared, then continued down the mountain. Recently a monkey tried to steal my crisps! I waved my arm and it shouted a wee bit and retreated. If it really wanted them I would of given it to them they've got sharp looking teeth!

Aside from monkeys the views here are amazing stretching out over the valley with more mountains in the distance. At night time there is prayers being echoed round the valleys via speakers, with thousands of stars and the gently clink of wind chimes this should be the other side of the world from Delhi not the same country!
Balcony at hotel
View from the balcony
Balcony again!
View down in the valley
Village perched on the mountainside
Sunset in Dalhousie

As I walking through down a road a procession of people came up with flutes, trumpets and drums playing what I shall call Eastern-Jazz fusion! Followed by people in ornate costumes and they continued through the streets. There is a heavy Tibetan infulence on Dalhousie with various settlements around and also rock painting depicting Tibetian Gods.

I shall soon move on to McLeod Ganj near Dharamsala where I intend to spend a bit of time if I like it!

Golden Temple

I moved on to Amritsar where the Golden Temple resides.After being whisked off to the hotel in a auto-rickshaw, I was knacked after sitting on a train for the 7 hours from Delhi. I never quite understand why the actual travelling is so tiring can you don't do anything!

I arrived in a hotel where they had subtle air-conditioned units.

The next day I got a rickshaw to the Golden Temple, eventually. The rickshaw driver seemed to be taking me for a tour through the markets and bazaars. Literally taken for a ride! At the end I asked him the price and he asked me how much I though I should pay him. I said 30rps and he seemed happy enough!I then got a bright orange headscarf and deposited my sandals at the shoe collection. Then you have to walk through a bath of water to cleanse your feet before entering the temple complex.The acutal temple is an amazing sight. The traffic horns die away and there is a quiet peaceful atmosphere as you would expect in a place of worship. The Golden Temple is surrounding by a large shallow bath of water, connected by a single walkway, and in the centre stands the actual temple. Reputedly gilded in some 750kgs of gold!

I then went for a free meal! Inside the temple complex lies a full working food factory serving 30,000 people a day. You collect a tray, bowl and spoon and you go in and then sit on a mat cross-legged. I just copied the guy to the left of me! Then I held out my hands and the worker dropped a couple of jappatis to me. Shortly a guy comes round with a large bucket and a spatula which he slops down your lentils and something like a small bit of ginger?? Then somebody says a prayer repeated by some of the attendants and then everybody tucks in!

After that I had another walk round the temple and realised why their are carpets on the marble especially near the foot baths. I walked through one and then done my best Chaplin-esque running on the spot before recovering and quickly back on to the carpet.

Then I wander out on the street and tried to look for a quiet moment to whip off my turban! No t quite sure what to do with it I just shoved it in my pocket.

Although I'm finding it very easy to get lost in the cities, as I have no sense of direction, it's at least easy to get your wait out as auto-rickshaws are everywhere.
Or so you would of thought.....
I tried to get back to my hotel which bore the very unhelpful name of Tourist Guest House. This was met with a blank stare by the taxi driver who drove about for 5 minutes looking for people to ask. At a taxi rank about 5 people were all trying to work out where I was wanting to go!
I got there in the end! I though the map on the back of the card would of been helpful for the driver, but I don't think they use maps!

My fingers hurt from having to whack this old keyboard now, hardling touch typing but aleast all the keys work!

Thursday, November 04, 2004

I made it to Delhi..... and so did my luggage!

Got to the hotel without to many problems except for standing inqueues for ages for security and changing money. As your not allowedto take rupees in everybody needs to change money.

I'm knackered as I didn't sleep on the planes.
Delhi is crazy! People& cars everywhere.I'm just off a main road from the railway station.Everybody drives with their horn! There is cycle-rickshawauto-rickchaws motorbikes and cars going through the equivalent of aramshackle Barras.

I have a feeling it will take a while to get used to India.I don't think I fancy too much time in Delhi, its all a bit toofrantic for my first place in India.I'll try and head to Amritsar probably might be a bit cooler possiblyslightly quiter??

I'm gonna just try and stay up for a few more hours so as to try andget my sleep pattern normal! I'm half way through that Divinci Code already.There is a restaurant on the roof of my hotel which looks like a goodmenu so I'll eat there tonight and get an early night.